“This is just goal number one,” Patric Young said with a big smile on his face after the Gators finished an undefeated regular season in conference play. Florida jumped out to a 21-point lead at halftime over Kentucky, weathered a 15-0 run by the Wildcats in the second half and finished with an 84-65 win on Senior Day at the O’Connell Center.
“I love Senior Day and I hate it,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said after calling this the best regular season he’s ever been a part of.
“That’s the best sendoff I’ve seen in my 18 years here for our 4 seniors. And with all of that emotion, I didn’t know how they’d come out and play.”
Donovan needn’t worried.
Jacksonville’s Pat Young got things started, scoring on a variety of jump hooks, dunks and short jumpers as Florida took control early.
“It fired me up,” Young said of the Senior Day festivities before the game. “I just wanted the ball to get in the air to get started. I was ready to go.”
In a reference to the “one and done” history recently for the Wildcats under John Calapari, one fan held up a sign before the game, “Hey Kentucky, this is what Senior Day looks like.”
Florida leaned on their seniors with Young getting 14 points in the first half enroute to their big lead.
“Coach told us it was going to be a dogfight at halftime,” senior guard Scotty Wilbekin said afterwards. “We believed him. Kentucky’s a good team, they can score. We just had to weather that storm.”
Wilbekin put an end to that 15-0 Kentucky run in the second half with a big 3-point shot. “I was looking for that”he noted as the lead was cut to just six. His shot pushed it back to nine with 12 minutes left in the second half. Young hit a hook from the lane and Casey Prather made a layup and a free throw on a great drive to the basket to push Florida’s lead back to 17 and they never looked back.
The Gators earned a first round bye in the SEC tournament by winning the regular season title. They’ll next play in Atlanta in a second round game next weekend.
“We’ll enjoy this for now, take tomorrow off and work on getting our minds and bodies right for the next thing we have to do,” Donovan said with a smile in his press conference.
The SEC played an 18-game conference schedule from 1967 through 1991 but no team went undefeated in conference play in that stretch. Kentucky (twice) and LSU went 17-1 over that period of time.
Now that the league has expanded, the Gators become the first team to go undefeated through conference play.
“We’re not perfect,” Donovan noted, admitting that the record says otherwise. “We’ve played some bad games and have managed to win. We can still better. Our goal is to “chase greatness” by being as good as we can be. The rest will take care of itself.”
When they’re that good, they’re unbeatable.