Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Sports

Florida fights off Auburn, lays claim to No. 1

GAINESVILLE — Devon Walker and Michael Frazier's embrace lasted about 20 seconds before they walked off the O'Connell Center court arm in arm like they had just won the lottery. Florida senior guard Scottie Wilbekin stopped as he left the court, threw his arms into the air and screamed.

The celebration that ensued Wednesday after No. 2 Florida's 71-66 victory over unranked Auburn reflected the battle the Gators were in all night.

UF overcame its largest deficit of the season — down eight at halftime — and hit five free throws in the final 19.4 seconds to earn its sixth straight victory over Auburn.

The victory was a school-record 18th in a row and 30th straight at home for the Gators (24-2, 13-0 SEC). It came on a night when No. 1 Syracuse lost to unranked Boston College, putting Florida in position to move to the top spot in the regular season for the first time since Feb. 12, 2007, and was a not-so-subtle reminder of how every opponent will bring its best shot when you're near the top.

"It slaps us in the face," forward Casey Prather said. "It helps us know that we have to come out each and every game ready with the mind-set to be better."

The Gators needed stellar play — and some luck. Frazier's 3-pointer with 40.5 seconds left gave them a 66-65 lead. After Auburn's Chris Denson made the first of two free throws with 20.7 seconds left to tie it, he missed the second. But Tigers center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum immediately and inexplicably grabbed and fouled center Patric Young, who hit both free throws with 19.4 seconds left. Auburn's Allen Payne threw away the ensuing inbounds pass, setting up two Wilbekin two free throws.

Florida held Auburn (12-12, 4-9) without a field goal in the final 4:43.

"I was really thankful that I was given the opportunity to shoot them and knock them down," said Young, doubtful before the game with sore knees but finished with a team-high 17 points, all in the second half, and was 7-of-9 from the line despite being a 57.1 percent free-throw shooter going in.

UF made only 8 of 24 3-pointers and allowed the Tigers to shoot 47.8 percent overall and 66 percent from 3-point range in the first half. Auburn freshman Tahj Shamsid-Deen had 17 points and made 5 of 8 3-pointers.

"I thought Auburn outplayed us," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "With our rankings and being undefeated in the league we get everyone's best shot. But I like to look at it the other way: Are we going to give our best shot? I don't think we did that."

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