A questionable decision and boneheaded play negated the Auburn Tigers (12-12, 4-9 SEC) upset bid on Wednesday night in Gainesville, FL as the No. 2 Florida Gators (24-2, 13-0 SEC) squeaked out a 71-66 victory in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
Florida set a school record with its 18th-straight victory, captured its 30th win in a row at home and matched the program record for best start to a season (2006-07). The Gators also extended a program record with their best-ever start in league play and recorded their 16th consecutive home win against an SEC opponent.
OnlyGators.com breaks it all down with eight quick-hitters:
It was over when: Florida senior center Patric Young rebounded a missed Chris Denson free throw with 21 seconds to play, and Auburn’s Asauhn Dixon-Tatum inexplicably fouled him with UF in the double bonus. Young, who has hit .714 over the last six games from the charity stripe, made both free throws to give the Gators a two-point lead. But the game really ended on the ensuing inbounds pass when Allen Payne of the Tigers threw the ball to a teammate who was not expecting it only to see the rock sail out of bounds. Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was fouled immediately afterward and hit two more free throws to clinch the victory.
Prominent player: Young dominated in the second half and carried Florida on his back at the tail end of Wednesday’s contest, finishing with a team-high 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He hit 7-of-9 free throws, grabbed seven rebounds, dished three assists and registered two blocks including a highlight swat where he charged down the court on a fastbreak, flew into the lane and saved a layup with eight minutes to play.
Perfect play: The Gators appeared down in the dumps trailing by two with less than a minute to play, but sophomore guard Michael Frazier II turned all of that around by draining a big three from point-blank range on an assist from senior forward Casey Prather with 42 seconds left. Though AU did tie the game on its next possession, the huge basket by Frazier helped reverse UF’s fortunes. It was especially big for Frazier, who went just 3-for-9 from beyond the arc on Wednesday and even injured his left wrist early in the second half. Frazier notched nine points, while Prather was an efficient 6-for-8 for 16 points with nine boards.
Check out the second half of The Fastbreak…after the break.
First half focus: A 12-0 run spotted Auburn a seven-point lead on Florida with 5:55 until halftime, but the Gators answered with a trio of three-pointers – two from Wilbekin – for a 9-2 stretch that tied things up at 27. However, AU turned up the heat on UF heading into the break with an 11-3 run over the final 3:10 of the opening period, handing its hosts a season-high eight-point deficit at the half. Wilbekin struggled and only hit 4-of-14 shots but totaled 15 points on the evening.
(More) perfect plays: Trailing by six early in the second half, Florida converted a pair of alley-oops on consecutive possessions, each of which was authored by Wilbekin. He first found Young wide open near the basket for an easy conversion before connecting with senior forward Casey Prather on a fastbreak. Prather caught Wilbekin’s pass, stretched toward the rim and slammed it home to cut UF’s deficit to two points.
Standout stat: The Tigers hit 10 of their first 17 three pointers and held the Gators at arm’s length throughout most of the contest. Florida’s defense beyond the arc can once again be called into question as it struggled to stop Auburn even in the second half after head coach Billy Donovan gave the team a stern talking to during the break.
What it means: The Gators survived a game they almost certainly would have lost a year ago and did so just minutes before No. 1 Syracuse suffered a 72-69 overtime defeat at the hands of Boston College on its home court. Which means…
Next up: Florida will have a chance to take over the No. 1 ranking nationally as it hits the road again for back-to-back games away from its home court starting with a contest Saturday at Ole Miss that will air live at noon on CBS.