“Is it (winning at Rupp) on my bucket list? (laughs) Nah, but it would be nice to get that off my back.”
-Florida Senior Forward, Patric Young
The Florida men’s basketball team has officially moved into uncharted territory. Saturday night marks the first win for UF’s seniors at Rupp arena, and moved them into a category among past national champions with 17 straight wins, which ties the program record.
As fitting as it could be, the seniors lead the way with 24 points from Casey Prather, 23 points and zero turnovers from Scottie Wilbekin and crucial points from Patric Young when the team needed them most.
After the game, even Florida head coach Billy Donovan recognized the collected effort of fight from his team.
“It was good. Prather gets fouled on a possession, misses two free throws, but then he gets that dunk and it really gets him going. And Scottie made a couple shots, but Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith had some good looks and chances to score, but we struggled,” Donovan said. “Scottie bailed us out a lot at the end of the game by getting to the free throw line.”
The game started just as the expects has predicted it; five freshman (UK) versus four seniors (UF). But, age meant nothing to these teams as both rosters believed they could battle their way to a win under any circumstances.
Right from the tip, Florida and Kentucky were making the paint a battleground. The officials made it clear their intention was for the players to settle this game with their ability and strength, not on the sound of the whistle.
Kentucky jumped out to a 7-2 lead, but Florida came back with an 8-0 run of their own to make it 10-7. As the game-of-runs would ensue, UF and UK found themselves tied at 23-23 with five minutes left in the half.
The swing point of the first half was when a missed shot by UF’s Dorian Finney-Smith turned into a put-back dunk by Patric Young that was waved off for cylinder interference. With the crowd alive, the Wildcats ended the half with the lead 31-28 shooting 50 percent from the floor.
After the game, Donovan said his team was getting good looks in the first half, despite only shooting 33 percent. Usually when you hear something like that, it’s just a case of the home team getting some magic and the road team experiencing some tough luck which results in a home-team win. But, this Florida team seemed to have paid their bad-luck dues last season, a trend these seniors would not let bring them down in their final game at Rupp Arena.
The second half opened up at even keel with Florida and Kentucky trading baskets, but thanks to some sharp shooting from Kentucky’s James Young (who ended the game with points), UK found themselves up 45-38 with a chance to crush the Gators’ spirits with 10 minutes left to play.
However as the crowd’s enthusiasm began to die down, and the shots continued to fall for Florida, UF’s taking of the lead at 49-48 came as subtly and almost as expected as ESPN analyst Jay Bilas had proclaimed it to on College Gameday earlier that day, “Florida’s going to win the game.”
From there, it was all about experience. Florida gained that lead at the 8:14 mark, and it would be in fact the last time the lead would change hands. Donovan said after the game he thought Patric Young was the x-factor to putting that game away.
“One thing I felt that changed the game for us was Patric Young,” Donovan said. “Patric Young with his post game and free throw shooting was really good for us, because he started the game 1 of 6, ball wasn’t going in the basketball, but he showed a lot of maturity… I was so proud of the way he played going down the stretch because most of his points came in crucial situations.”
As the game ended and UF’s seniors looked up at the scoreboard with fans rushing to the exits, they smiled — as anyone should. They had done it.
In that moment, there was no band playing, no gang chants from the Big Blue Nation to be heard and no celebratory graphics to be shown.
There was just those senior boys of ol’ Florida experiencing a certain feeling of accomplishment for the very first time.
For audio clips on the quotes above, click here: