Wilbekin switches, Gators win SEC Tournament

Kentucky had one chance to take the lead and walk out of the SEC Tournament championship game with a victory, and Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin knew right where they would go. After guarding James Young for most of the game, Wilbekin asked to switch onto Andrew Harrison. He knew where Kentucky was going and forced a stop, earning a 61-60 win for Florida on Sunday in Atlanta.

Andrew Harrison kept the ball and waited until the clock hit the five before driving to the basket. As he started his pursuit, Wilbekin never left his hip pocket. The senior guard forced Harrison to pass the ball to the perimeter, hitting James Young for a few dribbles before he slipped. Wilbekin pounced toward the ball as time expired, giving the Gators their first SEC Tournament championship since 2007.

"It's a lot of fun," Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin said from the postgame podium. "It's so great to play with these guys. We've won so many games in a row, and every game is a joy. It's a joy to play with these guys. It's a joy to play (defense) like we do. We get after it. That's what we do. We're a team."

It's the same way Wilbekin has played this season and exactly what makes him the most important player on the Florida roster. He makes the Gators go, no more evident than on Sunday. Less than a week after being named SEC Player of the Year, the senior point guard secured SEC Tournament MVP honors.

"He was awesome all year long," Florida assistant coach John Pelphrey said on the post-game radio show. "He's been great and played well. Tonight he really wanted to do it for his team and took some tough plays on offense, but the guy is never out of it. You never question if he's out of it or alert. Those things are never said. He's an unbelievable competitor and kept us together."

Wilbekin scored 11 points, adding three rebounds, two steals and a team-high six assists in Sunday's historical win.

"To guard that last possession where we made them fall down twice to win the game, that's pretty cool," Pelphrey said. "Through scouting, studying and his high basketball IQ, Scottie said, ‘let me get (Harrison).' He drives the ball more and Scottie was right on him. That was what we wanted to do was stay down.

The game didn't look like it was going to be close. The Gators led comfortably the entire first half and never trailed throughout the game. Florida led 16-14 almost midway through the first half and sprinted away on a 19-7 run to go up 35-21 after a three-point play from Chris Walker.

Florida took a 10-point lead into the locker room and was well in control, but the Gators knew a Kentucky run was coming. And it did.

After nine minutes of action in the second half, the Gators boasted a 15-point lead after a Patric Young dunk and looked poised to cruise in the NCAA Tournament with another title under their belt. Kentucky responded with a 14-0 run to cut the Florida lead to one point.

As he has all season, Michael Frazier drilled a three-pointer to push the lead back to four points. The teams traded baskets down the stretch until James Young hit a three-pointer with 1:30 remaining that cut the Florida lead to 61-60, where it would stay until the buzzer sounded.

"We trust one another," Dorian Finney-Smith said. "It's the trust in the team. We know that if we miss a free throw, we know we're going to get a stop."

The game secured the first time Florida has ever beaten Kentucky three times in one season. It was the first time any team has beaten the Wildcats three times in one season since Tennessee did it during the 1978-79 season.

The Gators also closed out a 21-0 record against SEC teams.

"This is a great group that's worked hard and we have great unity," Billy Donovan said. "I'm just proud that they could do what they did, and 21-0 is a great thing for these guys."

Florida will open the NCAA Tournament on Thursday in Orlando. The Gators will play against the winner of a play-in game between Albany and Mount Saint Mary's. Game times have not been announced.

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