The top ranked Florida Gator men?s basketball team won its fourth SEC championship in school history on Sunday with a 61-60 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats. The Gators defeated the Wildcats for the third time this season, the first time it has been done in school history.
It was a little different story for the Gators on Sunday as Florida came out on fire with 3-balls galore. Sophomore shooting guard Michael Frazier II began the game on fire scoring 11 of Florida’s?first 12 points, hitting three straight 3’s.??With senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin hitting 3 threes of his own, the Gators pulled out to a comfortable lead.
With just under five minutes left in the first half, the Gators jumped out to a 14 point lead and it appeared adjustments after two straight games with first half woes had been solved. The Gators went into the lockeroom with a 10 point lead up 40-30 and the 40 points was their?highest scoring first half by far of the SEC tournament.
The Gators shot 46 percent in from the field, from three and from the free throw line in the first half and were led by Frazier who had 11, Wilbekin who had nine and fellow senior Casey Prather with nine of his own. It wasn?t a shocker the Gator defense was on display in the first half allowing the Wildcats to shoot just 35 percent from the field and zero percent from three, which was huge.
The Wildcats went into the lockeroom with no players in double figures and SEC freshman of the? Year Julius Randle boasting just two points, shooting 1 of-4 from the field.
Coming out into the second half, the Gators opened up a 6-0 run and for a moment it seemed they would never look back. However everyone knew that with the talent the Wildcats boast, a run to fight their way back was on the horizon.
With just over 11 minutes left in the game,?the Gators found themselves up 16 and it was at that point Kentucky began that run. Over a four minute span the Wildcats went on a 9-0 run and quickly the game was cut to single digits. Within the next two minutes, the Wildcats cut the lead down to one and with the Gators going scoreless for close to five minutes it was clear we had a game on our hands.
As the game came down to its final minutes the Gators would open up a two possession lead but the Wildcats clawed their way back again placing the score 61-60 with a minute and a half to go. One important stat that played a big part of this game was points scored from the free throw line. The Wildcats found themselves at the line 26 times making 21, while the Gators connected on just 7 of 17 attempts from the charity stripe.
With chances to increase their lead, the Gators missed two straight one and one opportunities giving the Wildcats one last chance at an SEC title. But once again, the Gator defense held strong and thanks to some stellar effort from Wilbekin and a slippery floor the Gators were able to hold on.
The Gators finished with four players in double figures in seniors Wilbekin and Prather who finished with 11, Patric Young who finished with 14 and sophomore Frazier who finished with 14 of his own as he made just one three for his only points of the second half.
Despite the close finish, Donovan talked about the way his team fought towards the end.
?Our guys battled and fought hard, we had some nice plays at the rim, Scottie had a nice finish and a lot of good things happened,? he said.
The Wildcats with their strong second half finished with four of their own in double figures, with freshman Aaron Harrison leading the way with 16, his brother Andrew had 10 alongside Willie Cauley-Stein and James Young who had 13 points.
The Gators struggled in the second half for essentially the first time of the tournament, but head coach Billy Donovan talked about the one area they struggled most.
?The problem for us was we fouled nine times, they were in the bonus, and that?s what Kentucky does a great job at; the more fouls we committed, the slower the game was and Kentucky was able to cut back into our lead.?
With this win the Gators have won 26 straight games, including a 21-0 record against the SEC. The Gators four horsemen were able to win SEC championship for the first time and Donovan talked about the success of his players.
?This is a great group, they?ve worked hard, we?ve got good unity and I?m proud that they can do what they did.?
With their win the Gators?locked up their number one overall seed in the NCAA tournament. Florida has received the top seed?in the South Region and will play the winner of a play-in game between Albany and Mount St. Mary?s on Thursday.
For more post-game comments from head coach Billy Donovan and players click on the links below: