Great coaching, experience, defense, leadership and the conference player of the year — sounds like all the ingredients you need to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, especially when you sprinkle a little luck on the top. After dominating the first 30 minutes in play, the more experienced Florida Gators literally held on for dear life to capture the SEC Tournament title in their 61-60 cliffhanger over Kentucky. The Gators (32-2) are now on a school-record 26-game winning streak and have won 21 straight games against SEC opponents, with their last conference loss being against Mississippi State in last year’s tournament championship, a game in which they blew a 12-point lead.
Florida was on cruise control and appeared to be headed to a relatively easy win, leading 54-40 midway through the second half. However, the Kentucky (24-10) youth movement responded with a 14-0 run, edging the score to 54-53 at the 6:16 mark. The Gators then ran off five straight points to push the lead back to five. The Wildcats managed to trim the lead to one a second time, putting the score at 61-60 with several chances to win the game. Their final attempt at victory was thwarted as James Young slipped driving down the lane and lost control of the ball as the Gators dove on the floor to gain possession, ending the game.
A potent Gators’ first half scoring attack went into quiet mode in the second half, as they managed to score just 21 points after posting 40 in the before halftime. Patric Young and Michael Frazier II scored 14 points apiece to lead the way. Casey Prather and SEC Player of the Year Scott Wilbekin contributed 11 points each. The Wildcats remained in the game mostly due to their performance at the free throw line. As a team, they shot 21-of-26 from the charity stripe, compared to shooting just 18-of-51 from the floor. Conversely, the Gators shot an awful 7-of-17 from the free throw line and 23-of 53 from the floor.
Had the game lasted a minute longer, the Wildcats might have secured the tournament title. Regardless of the outcome, its a foregone conclusion that Florida will be the No. 1 overall seed, as they will open play in Orlando, Fla. in the NCAA South Region.