Gators Cruise to Fourth Straight SEC Win

The surging Florida Gators won their fourth straight SEC game, placing four starters in double figures – including three with more than 20 points – en route to a solid 87-71 victory over visiting Georgia before a crowd 10,603 at the O'Connell Center Wednesday night.

UF improved to 15-5 overall and 4-2 in SEC play with the win while the Bulldogs, who were coming off an impressive upset of eighth-ranked Tennessee, slipped to 9-9, 1-4.

Florida's four-game SEC winning streak is its best since the 2006-07 season. The Gators' win, meanwhile, coupled with Vanderbilt's win over Tennessee, moved UF into third place in the SEC East, just one-half game behind Kentucky (19-1, 4-1) for second place behind the surprising Commodores (16-3, 5-0).

"It just puts us back in the thick of things," freshman guard Kenny Boynton said of UF's win. "The SEC is up for grabs with Kentucky losing last night (to South Carolina). We just need to keep on getting wins, and our next game is our most important game."

Junior forward Alex Tyus had a season-high 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field. His total was also a career-high against an SEC opponent. He was joined in double figures by Boynton and sophomore point guard Erving Walker, who each had 21 points, and junior center Vernon Macklin, who had 12. Chandler Parsons added eight points while senior Dan Werner came off the bench to lead UF in rebounds with six, with Boynton and Parsons adding four each.

"I feel great about everything that I've been able to do to help this team win," said Tyus, who almost transferred during the offseason. "I'm excited just to keep this thing going, and I feel like we've got a good chance to make some noise."

The Gators enjoyed one of their best nights of the season offensively, connecting on 53.3 percent (32-of-60) from the field and 43.8 percent (7-of-16) from 3-point range. Walker (4-of-6) and Boynton (3-of-7) combined for all of UF's 3-pointers, with Walker now shooting an incredible 14-of-20 (70 percent) from behind the arc in the last four games.

In addition, the 5-8 Walker recorded a double-double by dishing out a career-high 10 assists and spearheaded a press that forced 19 Georgia turnovers and tied a season-high with 12 steals as the Gators almost doubled the 'Dawgs in points off turnovers, 33-17. UF also won the rebounding battle, 27-23, including 13 on the offensive end that led to a big 17-2 advantage in second-chance points.

All those factors led to a 16-point Gator win despite Georgia shooting lights out. The 'Dawgs were 28-of-47 (59.6 percent) from the field, well above the previous high for an opponent this year (52.5), and were 8-of-14 (57.1 percent) from 3-point range.

Leading the way was 6-10 sophomore forward Trey Thompkins, who led all players with 24 points and was 10-of-12 from the field, and senior guard Ricky McPhee (21 points), who was 8-of-11 shooting including 5-of-8 from 3-point range. Sophomore guard Travis Leslie added 11 points and a game-high eight rebounds for the 'Dawgs.

The Gators started out slow, missing their first six shots from the field as Georgia grabbed an early 9-4 lead. But once UF started finding the range, the Gators were able to set up their press, which paid big dividends. Florida took the lead for good, 23-21, on the second of Walker's three first-half treys, and from there UF was able to pull away to a 45-33 halftime lead, setting a season-high for points in the first half.

The Bulldogs cut the lead to nine, 47-38, in the first two minutes of the second half, but Boynton scored eight of UF's next 11 points to keep the 'Dawgs from getting any closer. Tyus gave UF some breathing room later when he scored seven unanswered points – all on assists from Walker – capped by an alley-oop dunk that gave the Gators a 65-49 lead with 11:18 left to play.

Georgia made one final run, getting within eight, 71-63, with 5:40 left on a dunk by Thompkins, but the Gators answered with an 8-0 run capped by another Boynton trey for a 79-63 bulge with four minutes remaining and coasted home to victory.

"I felt with their size and their length that we really needed to get the game going up and down and try to make our press more of a factor than it's been the last couple of games," Gator head coach Billy Donovan said. "I thought we shot the ball very well, and that enabled us to get into the press. We forced 19 turnovers which helped, and I thought our offensive rebounding helped. I thought it was a great effort by our guys, really the entire game."

The Gators will take their four-game winning streak to Rocky Top this weekend for a big SEC battle with the Vols (15-4, 3-2), who have now lost back-to-back league contests. The game is set for Sunday at 1 p.m. and will be televised nationally by CBS.


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