No. 3 Gators take control late, earn big win

Florida coach Billy Donovan didn't like what he saw. Kentucky was gaining momentum after taking a 41-35 lead following two Andrew Harrison free throws, forcing a timeout from Donovan. The Gators came out of the timeout to fight back and tie the game within minutes. No. 3 Florida dominated down the stretch, outscoring Kentucky 16-6 in the final six minutes to earn a 69-59 win in Lexington.

After an Andrew Harrison three-pointer pushed Kentucky's lead back to seven points, the Gators went on a 13-3 run to take a 51-48 lead, punctuated by a Casey Prather layup.

Minutes later, Aaron Harrison hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 53 with 6:04 remaining. Over the final six minutes, the Gators outscored Kentucky 16-6. Florida's seniors scored 13 of the 16 points.

"Our guys were resilient and battled," Billy Donovan said on postgame radio. "This was going to be a 40-minute game with ebbs and flows. You have to have some toughness and grind through things."

The offense got off to a slow start. Florida scored just 28 points in the first half -- compared to 41 in the second half. Donovan was optimistic at halftime because the Gators were getting open looks but failed to make them. Figuring that would change in the second half, Donovan stayed the course with his team and trusted his veterans.

They rewarded him.

Prather finished with 24 points, four rebounds and four steals. He was 8-9 from the field and used his disruptive speed to get to the basket at will against the inexperienced Kentucky players, beating the Wildcats down the floor multiple times.

When the Gators needed a basket late, it was Scottie Wilbekin that created. The senior guard finished with 23 points and shot 11-12 from the free throw line, icing the game when Florida needed him the most. In two road games at Tennessee and Kentucky this week, Wilbekin played 71 minutes, scored 44 points and didn't commit a single turnover.

"He played great," Donovan said. "Just great."

Florida center Patric Young scored eight points in the first 11 minutes, giving the Gators a post presence to keep the Kentucky defense from focused on the perimeter attack of Scottie Wilbekin. When the defense collapsed on Young, it opened up slashing lanes for Prather while Wilbekin was able to find open shots.

"The one thing I think that changed the game was Patric Young with his post game and free throw shooting," Donovan said. "It was really, really good for us. He started the game 1-6 but he stuck with it, showed great maturity. He didn't get frustrated. I was so proud of what he did for our team. Most of his points came in crucial situations where maybe we were teetering a little bit."

It was the Florida defense that secured the game. The Gators played strong on the defensive end, snapping Kentucky's 22-game home winning streak and beating the Wildcats in Lexington for only the third time in 84 games since John Calipari took over as head coach.

"You're holding a team that's averaging 78 points to 20 less than their average in their home building? It says a lot about the effort our guys had," Donovan said.

The Gators now hold a three-game lead in the Southeastern Conference standings with six games remaining in the conference schedule. With Florida likely heading to No. 2 in the AP Poll after Arizona lost on Friday, Donovan wants to keep his team grounded as they look towards hosting Auburn on Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

"Long way to go," Donovan said. "It'll be interesting to see how our guys handle themselves after this. Can we get ourselves, emotionally, to the level we've been at this week? We have to be willing to keep going down to the bottom and going through the process of trying to get better and improve."


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