Florida survives Henderson's big half to extend hot streak


Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin attempts a shot over Mississippi forward Anthony Perez in the first half in Oxford, Miss., on Saturday. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Published: Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 2:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 8:51 p.m.

OXFORD, Miss. — With nemesis Marshall Henderson firing away, Ole Miss appeared poised to pull off an upset Saturday against No. 2 Florida.

But the Gators showed the strength of their team is greater than one individual, especially in crunch time, in their 75-71 win over the Rebels at Tad Smith Coliseum.

Florida (25-2, 14-0 SEC) won its 19th straight and with No. 1 Syracuse losing to Boston College earlier this week, will likely move up to No. 1 in the country in both polls Monday. It would be UF’s first No. 1 ranking since Feb. 12, 2007.

“Kind of crazy, isn’t it?” Florida senior center Patric Young said. “That’s the first time I’ll have experienced being No. 1. It’s not really much of anything because you don’t get a trophy for that. We’ll worry about that at the end of the year.”

Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin led the Gators with 18 points and seven assists. Michael Frazier II added 17 points, Young had 12 points and five rebounds, including four straight free throws down the stretch to help UF surpass the 2006-07 team for the best start through 27 games in school history (the 2006-07 team was 24-3).

Henderson scored all of his team-high 22 points for Ole Miss in the first half, but the crafty 6-foot-2 guard was shut out in the second half on 0-of-6 shooting.

“You’re not going to prevent him from shooting the ball,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s going to shoot it from wherever he gets it. And a lot of times you are at the mercy of whether it goes in or not. And in the second half, it didn’t go in.”

For as well as Henderson played in the first half, Florida and Ole Miss (16-11, 7-7) were still tied at 42 at halftime because the rest of the Gators were equally hot from the perimeter. Florida made 5 of its first 7 3-point attempts to build a 34-24 lead and finished 8 for 16 from beyond the arc in the first half. Sophomore guard DeVon Walker scored all seven of his points off the bench in the first half, hitting a pair of 3-pointers. Frazier made three first-half 3-pointers. Even sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith snapped a string of 22 straight 3-point misses with a 3-pointer in the first half.

“They were playing zone, they were packing it in,” Donovan said. “DeVon Walker has given us a couple of games now he’s made some shots. I feel comfortable with Scottie and Frazier shooting the basketball.

“If you in the first half, instead of making eight (3-pointers), you end up making three, you’re probably talking about being down double-digits. So even with Henderson going crazy in the first half it was kind of a wash, him versus our team.”

But again, Florida sealed away the win in crunch time with some timely shots and clutch free throws. After Ole Miss freshman Anthony Perez tied the score at 59 with 8:06 remaining, Florida took control of the game with a 7-0 run.

Wilbekin sparked it with a steal, which led to a Young breakaway dunk. Senior forward Casey Prather followed with a jumper to extend UF’s lead to 63-59. Florida’s interior passing was more crisp against Ole Miss’ zone, which led to Will Yeguete and Young getting to the free-throw line. Young sank a pair of free throws to put UF ahead 66-59.

“We just did what we’ve been doing, staying zoned in on what we’re doing, and locking in on defense,” Wilbekin said.

Ole Miss cut Florida’s lead to 68-63 on a jumper by Jarvis Summers with 3:36 left. But Frazier answered with an open 3-pointer with 3:12 remaining to extend UF’s lead to 71-63 and hand Ole Miss its fourth straight defeat.

“I don’t even know who found me, but it was a great pass,” Frazier said. “It was a great look and it felt good knocking down a shot for my team.”

Florida had another strong game from the free-throw line, going 15 of 19 (78.9 percent), 9 of 10 in the second half.

But Donovan is now concerned about UF’s defense, which he feels has slipped in recent weeks. Florida will conclude a stretch of four of five games on the road Tuesday night at Vanderbilt.

“I didn’t think we played with great effort on the defensive end in the first half,” Donovan said. “We have a reputation for being this great defensive team, but I don’t feel like we’ve played that way the past couple of weeks.”

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

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