For much of the first half of Saturday’s game between No. 3 Florida and No. 14 Kentucky the Wildcats held the lead, with Julius Randle scoring ten points and Kentucky shooting 50% from the field. The Wildcats may have led by just three points at the half but it was clear that Billy Donovan would need to make adjustments on the defensive end while getting more efficient offense from his team.
Those changes occurred, with Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young leading the way, and as a result the Gators left Rupp Arena with a 69-59 victory. The Gators, 23-2 overall and 12-0 in the SEC, have now won 17 straight games.
Defensively the Gators began double-teaming the post on the catch, with a second big man being the one shifting over in most instances. As a result Randle’s looks at the basket became limited, as he attempted just two shots in the second half with all three of his points coming at the foul line. And without that ability to score points in the post much of the offense fell on the shoulders of Andrew Harrison and James Young, who combined to score 22 of Kentucky’s 28 second half points.
But with the absence of offensive balance Kentucky was less effective offensively, and this gave Florida the edge it needed to take control of the game. Wilbekin, Young and Casey Prather combined to score 38 of Florida’s 41 second-half points, with Wilbekin scoring 18 of his 23 points in the game’s final 20 minutes. The senior point guard was excellent in running the show for Florida, making sound decisions whether it involved how to properly use ball screens or making sure the ball kept moving offensively.
As for Prather (24 points, with some key transition baskets getting him going) and Young (ten points) they proved to be too much for Kentucky’s young front court, and as a team Florida outscored Kentucky 34-22 in the paint. In the second half Florida shot 60% from the field and 15-for-17 from the foul line, scoring 1.5 points per possession. The Gators got the job done on both ends of the floor, and as a result they’re now three games ahead of the pack in the SEC.
That’s fine, and winning an SEC title is a goal for Florida. But if anything can be gleaned from their second half performance it’s that the Gators should be considered one of the favorites to win the national title. Syracuse remains undefeated, as does Wichita State, and there are other teams that have a case as well. But given the experience and talent of Donovan’s rotation, there’s little doubt that Florida will be in that discussion.