Gators survive to make history


Auburn guard Chris Denson (3) drives against Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin (5) during the first half at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Wednesday.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 8:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 1:04 a.m.

Florida coach Billy Donovan said he felt his team was outplayed by Auburn on Wednesday night at the O’Connell Center.

“Just calling it like it is,” Donovan said.

Yet somehow, some way, the No. 2 Gators secured a historic win, beating Auburn 71-66 before a sellout crowd of 12,414 for its school-record 18th straight victory.

The 18 consecutive wins surpassed the previous three longest streaks of 17 straight games that occurred during UF’s 2006 and 2007 national championship seasons. Florida (24-2, 13-0 SEC) also won its 30th straight at home, but needed some clutch shots, clutch free throws and Auburn mistakes down the stretch to make it happen.

“Coach likes to say our record is our past,” Florida senior center Patric Young said. “It counts for us this year, but it’s in the past. We need to not let that affect us going forward into the next game. And I think that may have affected us going into this game. We may have been a little bit complacent.”

Said Donovan: “You always celebrate a win. Our guys worked hard to do that. It’s hard to prepare. It was a hard-fought game. Auburn is a good team. … We’re going to enjoy the win, but we’re certainly going to have to make some corrections and get better.”

Young scored all of his game-high 17 points in the second half. None were bigger than the two free throws he hit with 19.4 seconds remaining. Then, Auburn senior forward Allen Payne threw away the ensuing in-bounds play. Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was fouled with 17.4 seconds left, extending UF’s lead to 70-66.

With 4.7 seconds remaining, Young finished off his 17-point, seven-rebound night by rebounding a missed 3-point attempt from Auburn junior guard KT Harrell. The 6-foot-9 center made 1 of 2 free throws to finish off the game. Florida went 82.1 percent from the free-throw line (23-28), overcoming a 33-percent night from 3-point range (8-24).

Donovan said he nearly sat Young for the game due to knee tendinitis issues that have affected him on and off during the season.

“I had to pick it up in the second half, but we did a lot better of a job,” Young said.

The Gators also got another clutch shot down the stretch from sophomore guard Michael Frazier II. With Florida down 65-63, Frazier made a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 40.7 seconds. Frazier, who had ice on his left wrist postgame after injuring it on a hard spill on the court, had been 3 of 8 from 3-point range before the go-ahead shot.

“I knew as soon as I let it go it was good,” Frazier said. “And that’s a great feeling because sometimes I shoot with confidence and I feel like it comes out, oh, I did this wrong, I tweaked it to the left too much. But that last shot, that was the best-feeling shot I had in the game. It came at the right time.”

But Auburn z(12-12, 4-9) had a chance to regain the lead with 20.7 seconds when senior guard Chris Denson went to the free-throw line after Will Yeguete was called for a blocking foul. Denson made his first free-throw attempt to tie the score at 66, but missed his second. On the miss, Young corralled the rebound and was fouled by Auburn center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, setting up Young’s heroics.

Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said he had confidence in Young, a 57.1 percent free-throw shooter, going to the line.

“I knew he was going to hit it, and we were going to get a stop,” Wilbekin said.

But for as well as Florida played down the stretch, Donovan was more disappointed in UF’s first-half performance. Florida trailed 38-30 at halftime, its largest deficit in a half this season.

Auburn shot 56.5 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from 3-point range (6 of 9) in the first half. Freshman guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen scored 14 of his team-high 17 points in the first half.

“They were definitely hot, especially in the first half,” Wilbekin said. “But we were worried about the drives, we were helping because Harrell and Denson were both averaging 20 points. So we were focusing on them and (Shamsid)-Deen, he really stepped up in the first half.”

In the second half, Wilbekin did a better job finding Young inside on pick-and-roll plays. Down 41-33, Florida tied the score at 41 on back-to-back alley-oop plays from Wilbekin to Young and Wilbekin to senior forward Casey Prather.

Prather added 16 points for the Gators, and Wilbekin had 15 points and four assists. Wilbekin said Donovan challenged the Gators at halftime after UF’s lackluster first half.

“I had confidence that we would play the way we’re accustomed to playing and we wouldn’t lay down for the game here at our homecourt,” Wilbekin said.

With Syracuse losing to Boston College on Wednesday night, Florida has a chance to vault to No. 1 for the first time since the week of Feb. 12, 2007. The Gators next play Saturday at Ole Miss, and will likely play again without freshman point guard Kasey Hill, who sat out the Auburn game with a groin injury.

“He’s not progressing as fast as I thought he would,” Donovan said. “Right now I would say it’s probably doubtful for the game on Saturday (against Ole Miss). It’s not pulled, it’s a strain. The trainers were hoping he would be able to start practice on Thursday. But he’s not going to be able to do that.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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