Hodge Leads Gators in Final Home Game

Fittingly, Walter Hodge, Florida's lone senior playing in his final home game, stood at the free throw line with 7.7-seconds left in Saturday's game against Kentucky. The winningest player in program history knocked down 1-of-2 to give him a game-high 18 points as the Gators kept their NCAA hopes alive with a 60-53 win over Kentucky at the O'Dome.

Florida led throughout and put together one of their best defensive efforts of the season, holding Kentucky to 20 points less than their season average. But more importantly, the Gators finish the SEC season two games above .500 at 9-7 and can still work their way into the NCAA Tournament with a win or two in Tampa at the SEC Tournament.

On the court, the win was about defense with both teams holding the otehr to less than 45 percent shooting. But off the court for the Gators, it was about snapping a three-game losing streak and giving their senior guard Walter Hodge a proper send off.

"It was good to get a win especially for Walt," Dan Werner, who finished with eight points and six rebounds, said after the game.

"We just tried our best to get the win for Walter," Alex Tyus, who finished with 11 points, said. ""He's done so much for this program. We wanted to do it for him."

"It means a lot," Hodge said about getting a win in his final game at home. "I wanted to finish it out the right way. I'm not that worried about how much I play or how many points. I just want to win."

The Gators got off to a very good start, making their first four shots of the game. Werner and Hodge knocked down back-to-back threes to give Florida and early 6-0 lead. Nick Calathes, who scored scored just five, but dished out seven assists, knocked down his only three of the game to give Florida an 11-4 lead just three minutes into the game.

With 12:22 left in the opening half, Hodge knocked down another three, extending Florida's lead to 10. But the Gators missed their next nine shots while going scoreless for more than six minutes. Kentucky wasn't able to take advantage, though, and a Werner three with 5:52 left gave the Gators a 21-14 lead.

Florida would take a nine-point lead after a back door pass from Calathes to Ray Shipman put them ahead 29-20 just before the half. Wildcats center Patrick Patterson, who scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the first half, scored at the buzzer to cut the lead to two at the break.

The Gators started the second half cold, making just 1-of-7 to start the half, but again Kentucky couldn't capitalize. A match-up 3-2 zone by the Gators kept the Wildcats' offense out of sync for most of the game.

"I would say [this is the best defense we've played] especially against this caliber of team," Werner said. "To hold them to 53 points is pretty good. Every shot is so big it's all on the defensive end. We came up with loose balls and everyone did a good job."

"Today was defense," Tyus said. "We were prepared for them and we did a good job. [Offensive rebounds] was the main talking point in the locker room at the half and we made the adjustment and did a better job."

Erving Walker's, three-pointer with 15:40 left gave Florida a nine-point lead once again, but Kentucky was able to match the Gators basket-for-basket for a good portion of the second half. Patterson hit a free throw with 7:28 left to narrow the Gator lead to six points, 47-41.

After a turnover by Jodie Meeks, who finished with 15 points which is 10 under his season average, Tyus got behind the Kentucky defense for a fast break dunk to extend the lead back to eight and get the sold out crowd into the game.

In Lexington, the Gators lost the game at the free throw line. But Florida hit 4-of-6 in the final five minutes to preserve the win.

The Gators improve to 22-9 overall, while the Wildcats who haven't missed the NCAA Tournament since 1991, drop to 19-12, 8-8 in the SEC. Florida earns the No. 3 seed in the East for the SEC Tournament and will face Arkansas in the first round.


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