And did they ever.
The Gators' 79-to-64 win was in many ways a mirror image of the first game with Kentucky. The Wildcats led the Gators by two at the half in Gainesville only to see Florida put 56 on the board in the final twenty minutes. Sunday in Lexington, it was the Gators up, but just by one before controlling the second half (45-to-31) on the way to the win.
Balance Inside/Out Was Key
Florida had just three men score in double figures, but the balance of scoring between the big guys and guards was crucial. Florida's front court players combined for 36 points (Noah 15, Horford 13 and Richard 8) while the guards did the same (Humphrey 17, Hodge 9 and Green 7) while Corey Brewer -- who is a little of both added -- seven.
Lee Humphrey was no factor in the first Kentucky game, but he sure was in this one with 17 points. I thought Hodge's play in the first half was huge in this one. The freshman guard was left out there with two fouls while Billy Donovan protected Green and Brewer who also had two. Hodge played the final several minutes of the half and kept the Gators right there, leading by a point at intermission. He finished with nine points and made four of his five shots. Fellow freshman David Huertas also made a significant contribution with eleven solid minutes that included four rebounds matching his most in SEC play.
Joakim Noah had another excellent game and Al Horford was strong on both ends as the tandem combined for 28 points and 20 rebounds. Chris Richard had his best game in a while with eight points and six boards. The Gators were most impressive on the glass, out-rebounding Kentucky.
Lots of Benefits from the Win
The win enabled this group of Gators to add to the list of accomplishments that was already pretty darn impressive. The win was Florida's 24th, matching the school's best regular season total set three years ago. It also gave the Gators the first four-game winning streak over Kentucky in school history and marked just the third time the Gators have swept Kentucky in the regular season home-and-home series.
The win also earns the Gators a bye in the SEC Basketball Tournament. Instead of playing Thursday afternoon, the Gators will not take to the court until about 9:45 Friday night. That's a big plus, especially if the Gators win a couple of games as they have each of the last two seasons. Florida is likely to see Arkansas in that game, and Florida has to feel they owe the Hogs one.
But more than that, the Gators showed a national television audience that they are still an explosive, dangerous team that can score from anywhere on the floor. It was a huge road win for a team whose previous best win on an opposing home court was at Vanderbilt. And, with it coming on a Sunday afternoon it almost certainly was watched by most members of the NCAA selection committee. That's the kind of impression you want to leave when you are a contender for a favorable seeding and tournament assignment.
A Great Regular Season
There may not be a person alive who wouldn't have taken a 24-and-6 regular season for this team back in October. Sure, they should have beaten South Carolina twice and Tennessee at least once, but this team had an incredible run. A 17-game winning streak to start the year included a win in the season opening coaches versus Cancer Tournament. An eighth-straight 20-win season guaranteed an eighth straight NCAA bid.
A ten-and-six SEC record might be a tad disappointing, but any year with double-digit wins in the conference is acceptable. This team swept Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Georgia. This team went from unranked to # 2 in the nation and will enter conference play likely in the 12-to-15 range. This team has earned the right to play in Jacksonville for the first two rounds. This team has just reminded folks they are a team most would like to avoid come tournament time.
And they did it in style. They did it with passion. And they did it with more than 95 percent of its points coming from non-seniors.