GAINESVILLE — If someone had told Casey Prather four months ago that Florida would become the first team to go 18-0 in Southeastern Conference play, he knows exactly what he would have said.
"I would have told them to get out of my face, I don't believe you," Prather said.
But as he stood outside the locker room at the O'Connell Center on Saturday afternoon with remnants of a basketball net still hanging around his head and neck, he and his three senior teammates basked in the glory of just that accomplishment.
No. 1 Florida defeated No. 25 Kentucky 84-65 on an emotional senior day, only the second team this season to have a perfect league record (with Wichita State). The Gators' 29-2 record is the best regular-season mark in school history, and they won the SEC by six games.
"For me as a coach, it's the greatest regular season I've ever been a part of," Billy Donovan said.
"When you invest four years like these guys have invested, it means something to them. They are going to carry this with them the rest of their lives. They're going to be remembered for what they've done. They've done something that has not happened here before. It has not happened in our league before."
The 19-point win was Florida's largest over Kentucky (22-9, 12-6) in the series. Florida is now tied with Duke and Stephen F. Austin for the longest home winning streaks in the nation (32).
"It was the perfect way to end" the regular season, senior guard Scottie Wilbekin said.
Perfection didn't come without challenges, which epitomized this season for a team that overcame multiple injuries and suspensions on the road to undefeated. The Gators got big-time help from freshman guard Kasey Hill, who played 21 minutes, including critical time for Wilbekin who was in first-half foul trouble. And Michael Frazier (who turned 20 on Saturday) and Dorian Finney-Smith combined for 20 points. But ultimately, it was the seniors who paved the way.
Florida led 49-28 at halftime, but Kentucky refused to go down without a fight. The Wildcats scored 19 of the first 23 in the second half, including a 15-0 run.
"When you're dealing with a great team, you know they're going to fight back," Prather said.
Kentucky pulled within 58-50 with 10:03 left but never got closer.
Seniors scored the first 28 of the Gators' 35 second-half points.
When the nets had been cut down, Florida's seniors took a moment to stop and reflect one last time. Then they kissed the floor — together.
"This is the way to go out," said senior center Patric Young, who had a game-high 18 points. "You couldn't have scripted this any better. You go 18-0, you get to cut the nets down, we all walk off the court together, kiss the floor. What else could you want? This is the perfect way to end things."
Without actually being the end.
"We want to win nine more games," Young said. "Three in the SEC tournament and six to win the national championship."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]