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Florida wins huge SEC game at Kentucky

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Scottie Wilbekin had 23 points and hit five critical free throws down the stretch, and No.  3 Florida rallied for a tense 69-59 victory over No. 14 Kentucky on Saturday night in a matchup of the Southeastern Conference's top teams.

The Gators tied a school record with their 17th straight win, matching marks they set during the 2006-07 and 2005-06 seasons. It was their first victory at Rupp Arena since 2007 and snapped a six-game losing streak on the Wildcats' homecourt.

Trailing 45-38 with 11:12 left, the veteran Gators (23-2, 12-0 SEC) turned to their best players down the stretch. Wilbekin made 11 of 12 free throws, including two technical free throws with 8:14 left.

Casey Prather scored 24 for UF on 8-of-9 shooting. Patric Young added 10 points, including two three-point plays during a 13-3 spurt that put the Gators ahead for good.

Andrew Harrison scored 20 for Kentucky (19-6, 9-3), which had won 22 consecutive home games.

Prather's three-point play with 38 seconds left helped complete Florida's rare road sweep of Kentucky and Tennessee in the same week.

Kentucky outrebounded UF 31-28 but failed to 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 but basically controlled the paint, outscoring the Wildcats 34-22.

James Young added 19 points for the Wildcats, who shot 48 percent but didn't score in the final 1:55. Freshman Julius Randle had 13 points and 13 rebounds.

Florida hosts Kentucky in the rematch on March 8, but Saturday's win puts the Gators in firm control of the conference race. It also strengthened their resume for a possible No. 1 seed in next month's NCAA Tournament.

Florida's experience and poise — especially before a loud, partisan crowd and a prime-time audience — trumped Kentucky's youth, especially in pressure moments throughout the second half. The Gators improved to 3-2 against ranked teams.

The first half certainly lived up to the hype with seven ties and six lead changes. Kentucky held the largest edge at just seven points, which Florida whittled to 31-28 at the break. Randle had 10 points at halftime.

Florida executed nearly flawlessly down the stretch, outscoring Kentucky 22-11 in the final 8:14.

Young led Florida's 13-3 run over 3:19 for a 51-48 lead with 8:01 remaining. The 6-foot-9 senior sandwiched three-point plays around a 3-pointer by Wilbekin — who added two technical free throws — followed by Prather's jumper that provided the Gators' first lead since the first half.

They also got a big shot from sophomore guard and Tampa's Michael Frazier. Off an offensive rebound, Dorian Finney-Smith passed it back to Frazier, who drained a shot from the right beyond the arc. The 3-pointer extended UF's lead to 60-55 with 4:14 left. Frazier had missed his previous four shots, including his first from 3-point range.

Florida wins huge SEC game at Kentucky 02/16/14 [Last modified: Sunday, February 16, 2014 12:17am]

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