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March 8, 2014

Veteran Florida feasts on Cats in season finale

GAINESVILLE -- A sign deep in the Rowdy Reptiles section said it all.

"Hey Kentucky, this is what Senior Day looks like."

Truly.

No. 1 Florida, super-charged and senior-laden, eviscerated a tumbling Kentucky team 84-65 Saturday afternoon, capping a perfect end to its perfect regular season.

Anchored by four seniors -- Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Patric Young and Will Yeguete -- the Gators (29-2) made history, becoming the first team in the Southeastern Conference to go undefeated over an 18-game schedule.

But Kentucky (22-9, 12-6 SEC) made history Saturday too; losing to Florida like it had never done before (a series-high 19-point margin).

Losers of three of their last four games, the Wildcats' recent slide started from the tip, as continued cold shooting and poor transition defense resulted in a 21-point halftime deficit.

The Gators shot a blistering 61 percent from the field in the first half, sprinting on a 19-4 run fueled by Young bunnies and wide-open Michael Frazier three-pointers.

"We played the No. 1 team in the country at home on senior night and we came out a little timid," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "Florida is that good, and if you don't come and play you're going to get smashed."

Florida, winners of 23 straight and a school-record 32 in a row in the O'Connell Center, played like the hottest team in the country, while Kentucky was primed for carnage.

"We got to get this thing going," freshman forward Julius Randle said. "We don't know what we got to do, but we got to get going. Every game is important to build our confidence and chemistry. The guys, we all still believe, but there's a point where we have to put it into action. I still think we will."

For much of the game, Randle, who had his right knee treated during the first half, was the only Wildcats player not shell-shocked by the sold-out atmosphere. He led UK with 16 points and 10 rebounds, including eight straight points in the second half as the Wildcats briefly clawed back into the game.

Sparked by Randle's scoring and Alex Poythress' hustle and defense, UK stormed on a 15-0 run and held Florida scoreless for over five minutes.

Then, following a clutch Wilbekin three-pointer and iffy shot selection, the run ended and the rout was back on.

The Gators quickly regained their double-digit led, as the Wildcats lost all composure, energy and offensive patience.

"In the second half, we took the fight to them a little bit," Calipari said. "We made a game of it, but all of a sudden we take two of the worst shots we've taken all season. You've got to be kidding me, but that's what freshmen do."

Added Randle: "We just have to communicate better. We play so hard and fight so hard to get it back, we can't have those errors."

The Wildcats assisted on just 10 of 23 made baskets compared to 20 assists on 28 field goals by the Gators.

"They play off of one another," Calipari said. "The best play of the game was when Scottie threw it to one of the bigs and he threw it back to him and Scottie scored. That's just two guys knowing each other, playing for each other. That's the kind of stuff we're not getting right now."

James Young added 14 points and Aaron Harrison chipped in 10, but Andrew Harrison continued his ghastly shooting stretch (3 for 14) from the field.

While Florida's four seniors kissed the floor, waved goodbye and held up a sign reading: "18-0 and more to go," Kentucky's ballyhooed freshmen class was left wondering if that should've been them.

"I know a lot of people don't believe we can do it right now, but it's on us," freshman center Dakari Johnson said. "We just have to believe and if we do that's all that matters."



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