Trailing at the half for just the second time this season, the No. 7/8 Florida Gators (15-2, 5-0 SEC) outworked the Georgia Bulldogs (7-11, 1-4 SEC) over the final 20 minutes at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, GA, outscoring the hosts 40-20 in the second half and pulling away for an impressive 64-47 victory.
The Gators remained undefeated in Southeastern Conference play by clamping down defensively, rotating the ball in the second half and holding an opponent under 50 points in a game for the ninth time in the 2012-13 season.
Junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin led all scorers with a career-high-tying 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting with three assists and two rebounds. He registered 13 of those points in the first half as his teammates struggled offensively.
Georgia controlled the tempo early in the contest by jumping ahead 11-2 over the first few minutes and handing Florida its largest deficit in a conference game this season.
A quick 8-0 run got the Gators within a point of the Bulldogs at 11-10, and Florida was eventually able to tie the contest at 21 and again at 24 before guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drained a 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer to give Georgia a 27-24 lead at the end of the first half.
Wilbekin netted his first six baskets of the game and scored 13 of his team’s first 19 points. While he started 6-for-7 from the field and 1-for-2 from downtown in the first half, the rest of the Gators combined to go just 5-for-20 from the floor and 0-for-8 from three.
“If it wasn’t for the turnovers we forced in the first half, we probably should have been down by a much, much larger margin,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought it was their nine turnovers and Wilbekin’s 13 points that really kept us close in the game.”
Coming out of the break, Wilbekin hit another big three for Florida that tied the game at 27 and fueled a half-opening 21-4 scoring stretch that gave the Gators a 45-31 lead with 10 minutes to play.
After never leading in the first half, Florida held on to its advantage for the final 18:17 of the game, eventually taking a game-high 19-point lead and cruising to its fifth-straight double-digit victory in league play. UF hit 7-of-11 threes in the second half after going just 1-for-9 from downtown to start the game.
“I thought our guys did an outstanding job in the second half defensively. That was the key,” Donovan said. “We got off to a good start; we made the first couple points. We took the lead and then we must’ve had four or five consecutive stops and that was really important in getting the double-digit lead.”
Seniors G Kenny Boynton and forward Erik Murphy combined for two points in the first half as both players struggled with their shot; however, the duo their stroke in the final 20 minutes and finished with 14 and 13 points, respectively.
Junior F Will Yeguete once again cleaned up for his team with a game-highs of 11 rebounds and four steals (also a career-high) to go along with seven points.
“What he does is not a glorified job. It’s really a dirty work, grunt work kind of guy,” Donovan said. “I tell Will this all the time: ‘I can’t control different things in terms of attention you get, but I just want you to know from a coaching perspective, I think you bring incredible value to our team and you are extremely important.’
“I don’t ever take for granted what he does for our team because a lot of that stuff doesn’t show up in the box score.”
Florida’s defense overwhelmed Georgia in the second half and forced 17 turnovers in the game. The Gators scored 18 points off those miscues and also registered 12 second-chance points on 10 offensive rebounds.
UF will look to conclude its week on a high note with a second-straight road game at Mississippi State on Saturday. The game will air live on ESPN2 at 8 p.m.
Photo Credit: John Bazemore/Associated Press