Sunday, February 18, 2018
Sports

Experience carries Florida past Kentucky

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Florida had the same plan when it was trailing and when it pulled ahead. The third-ranked Gators just wanted to maintain their composure.

That steady approach turned into a big win at one of college basketball's most hostile venues.

Scottie Wilbekin scored 23 and hit five critical free throws down the stretch, and Florida rallied for a tense 69-59 victory over No. 14 Kentucky late Saturday in a matchup of the Southeastern Conference's top teams.

"It was just one of those games where you have to kind of stay the course," Gators coach Billy Donovan said.

Casey Prather had 24 points on 8-of-9 shooting as Florida tied a school record with its 17th straight win.

Kentucky led the Gators 45-38 with 11:10 left, with the crowd in Lexington going wild.

But as Florida center Patric Young said, "Nobody ever won a game with 11 minutes left."

The veteran Gators (23-2, 12-0 SEC) turned to their best players down the stretch en route to their first victory at Rupp Arena since 2007. Point guard Wilbekin made 11 of 12 free throws, including two after Kentucky coach John Calipari was whistled for a technical with 8:14 left.

"I feel like I'm always confident," said Wilbekin, who was 5-of-10 from the field and had no turnovers. "When the ball's in my hands, I feel like I have to make a play. I try to get to the basket or get the best shot for our team."

Young added 10 points, including two three-point plays during a 13-3 spurt that put the Gators ahead for good. Florida shot 60 percent in the second half and 44 percent (22-of-50) overall while controlling every major statistic except rebounding.

Andrew Harrison scored 20 for Kentucky (19-6, 9-3), which had won 22 straight home games. Julius Randle had 13 points and 13 rebounds but didn't hit a field goal in the second half.

Kentucky outrebounded Florida 31-28 but couldn't grab an errant shot at the biggest moments, especially on the offensive end. The Gators took advantage for a 12-8 edge in second-chance points and basically controlled the paint, outscoring the Wildcats 34-22.

"We're not ready to win that kind of game," Calipari said. "And I told them that. We've got to understand and listen. Take responsibility. If a guy outplayed you, admit it."

The Gators scored at least a point on each of their final 13 possessions. They hit 7 of 10 field goals and 15 of 17 free throws to close the game.

"Down the stretch they had the mental discipline. They locked in, and we kind of had breakdowns," Randle said. "You gotta be willing to make the tough plays. We didn't make enough of them."

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