You can read our coverage of Saturday’s Kentucky-Florida game here. Meanwhile, a look at the coverage from the Florida perspective.
It seems only appropriate that Calipari’s entire starting lineup on Saturday comprised young, undisciplined McDonald’s All-Americans. This is, after all, what Kentucky’s program has become; it’s become McDonald’s. It’s fast food, ordered from the NBA drive-thru, eaten quickly in the car — and the bag is mostly empty by the time you get home. Calipari is a fast-food fry cook; Donovan is a master chef who plans the meal, prepares it, seasons it just right and lets it marinate to perfection.
Even though Donovan would never admit it publicly, Saturday’s victory — the most lopsided over Kentucky in school history — was a victory for his way over Calipari’s way. A victory for a college basketball program over an NBA factory. How sweet it must have felt for the Gators and their four senior starters — Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete — to celebrate Senior Day with a blowout win over Calipari’s flash-in-the-pan freshmen.
It was an emotional Senior Day, framed jerseys before the game, snipping twine after it. An SEC regular-season championship. And a chance at much more.
Why not these Gators?
Billy’s bunch became the first SEC team to finish 18-0 in conference play.
“We set our goals to win the SEC, but to go 18-0?” said Florida senior center Patric Young, who led the Gators with 18 points Saturday. “But once we were 11-0, 12-0, 13-0, we decided let’s just go ahead and do it, let’s do it. And we got it done.”
The Gators (29-2, 18-0 SEC) finished off a historic regular season Saturday by becoming the first team in Southeastern Conference history to make it through an 18-game schedule undefeated. Florida won its 23rd straight overall and 32nd straight at the O-Dome, making it through a home schedule unbeaten for the second straight season.
“For me as the coach it’s the greatest regular season I’ve ever been a part of,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “What these players have done, going all the way back to the second game of the year with a depleted roster at Wisconsin, and then going to UConn and losing both point guards in that game and having to play a lot of our non-conference schedule somewhat banged up, guys not there … these guys have done a remarkable job.”
Florida throttled Kentucky with offensive efficiency in the first half, assisting on its first 11 baskets and shooting a blistering 61 percent, including 7 of 12 from beyond the three-point arc.
UF’s freshman roadrunner Kasey Hill nearly hijacked Senior Day with a terrific first half, handing out six assists and scoring four points with Wilbekin plagued by early foul trouble.
“I thought it was his best game by far he’s had here,” Donovan said of Hill. “He was aggressive, he was physical. He was tough and played with energy.”
The nets had been slashed to ribbons on both ends of the floor and the four seniors assembled one last time in the middle of the O’Connell Center floor. Together they dropped to their knees and kissed the Gator logo.
I never thought I would see a team enjoy winning and making history as much as the 2006 and ’07 Florida teams. I was wrong.
These guys reveled in the moment, soaking it in like sponges. Scottie Wilbekin punched at his heart and mouthed “I love you” to the Rowdy Reptiles. Casey Prather wore one of the nets like a beret when he bent to kiss the logo.
UF was frighteningly efficient on both ends in building a 22-point first-half lead on the Wildcats. The Gators shot a blistering 61.5 percent from the floor against the league’s second-best field-goal percentage defense and went 7-for-12 from the 3-point line, including three each from backup forward Dorian Finney-Smith (11 points, 6 rebounds) and Michael Frazier II (9 points on his 20th birthday). Florida assisted on 14 of its 16 field goals through the first 20 minutes. The offense was in a beautfiul rhythm.
Oh, and on the other end, the Gators were sync also. Kentucky shot just 34.8 percent and made only eight field goals in the first period.
“We jumped on ‘em early,” Wilbekin said. “We forced turnovers and got out in the break.”
Really, who could have imagined when this season began that Florida, and not overhyped Kentucky, would be the team running unscathed through the SEC? The Gators were expected to be a contender, but not taking down all comers by an average margin of 14.8 points.
And in the past seven days, Florida has taken domination to another level. It ripped LSU, South Carolina and Big Blue by a combined 63 points. In addition to their suffocating defense, the Gators made 33 of 69 three-point shots (47.8 percent) during that stretch, playing a brand of basketball that will likely stamp them as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
In the final home game of their careers, it was Florida’s four seniors that took it to the finish line — scoring the first 28 points of the second half to beat Kentucky 84-65 on Saturday in the final regular-season game for both teams.
It was UF’s largest margin of victory in the series. The top-ranked Gators (29-2 overall) became the first school in SEC history to finish 18-0 in league play and just the 17th school on the Division I level to play at least an 18-game conference schedule without a loss. Indiana was the only major conference team to ever go unbeaten over 18 league games — in 1974-75 and 1975-76.
This time, they cut down the nets.
After declining to participate in a net-cutting ceremony after last week’s win over LSU because there were two regular season games remaining, the No. 1 Florida Gators celebrated an 84-65 win over No. 25 Kentucky Saturday afternoon by cutting down the nets.
With the win, the Gators became the first team in SEC history to go 18-0 in SEC play, only the second team this season to have a perfect league record (along with Wichita State).
- Herald-Leader photo gallery from Kentucky-Florida
- Follow John Clay on Twitter
- SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament schedule