The victim this time was Kentucky, and save for a brief moment of anxiety early in the second half, they fared no better than the majority of Florida’s opponents.
The Gators opened the game shooting a scorching 7-11 from the field, which led to a 49-28 halftime lead, and it was simply too deep a hole for the Cats to climb out of- though not for a lack of trying. Everybody on Kentucky suddenly got hot at once, from Dakari Johnson to Julius Randle to the Harrisons, and everybody on Florida went cold. The result was a quick and huge Kentucky comeback; at the blink of an eye, the Cats had whittled a 22 point deficit down to six.
But then one of the Gator seniors… the one we all chant “SCOT-TIE! SCOT-TIE” for… hit a three, and it essentially put a pin in Kentucky’s balloon, as the Gators slowly built their lead back up over the course of the remaining few minutes until it had reached 19 and Kentucky had reached its final resting place.
And the Gator seniors went out the best way they possibly could- by beating their biggest basketball rivals by a comfortable margin of 84-65.
There’s a way of recapping games here at IAKOW that I don’t like to use unless the circumstances call for it, and in the case of today’s Kentucky game, I think they do. It’s kind of a cop-out for writers on most days, but I believe it’s actually the perfect way to describe this win: there were numerous ways Florida was able to burn Kentucky today, and Kentucky just couldn’t stop any of them. It’s that simple. The Gators simply had their way with Kentucky when they had the ball. Patric Young had one of his Pac-Man in eating mode type days on the boards, Michael Frazier (the birthday boy) was hot from outside, Kasey Hill and Scottie Wilbekin sliced Kentucky up in the paint, Dorian Finney-Smith hit a few big threes, and Casey Prather was his usual multi-faceted destructive self on both ends of the floor.
(Aside: having just rehashed the game, there’s much more than just another beatdown of Kentucky to talk about, and in fact, there’s so much that I can’t accurately convey it all in one post. There’s another article on the seniors coming this week, so stay tuned for that. But for now, trust me when I tell you, this team is special.)
The four seniors- Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguette, and Patric Young- made their mark in Gator history by being the first ever senior class to win three SEC Championships. Yes, the 04’s won three consecutive SEC Tournaments. But the SEC awards its “official” championship to the team with the best regular season record. The Gators have done that three times in the four years these guys have been here. They’re also the first ever team to go 18-0 in the SEC (though that’s a bit skewed because Kentucky went 18-0 a couple years ago; they just needed two SEC Tournament games to do it, but still.) Yet, these guys know they’re not done.
Florida craves more than an Elite Eight appearance and a regular season conference title this year. They appear to be on a mission to not lose another game, and so far, so good. The team held a meeting after dismantling LSU a week earlier regarding cutting down the nets to celebrate their 3rd SEC championship in four years- and the answer was a resounding no because they know they can do better than merely winning a conference that’s going to get four teams (tops) into the Big Dance.
No, true champions act like they’ve done it before (which the Gators have, in 2011 and 2013) and are never satisfied unless they are able to walk away from the game knowing they did everything they possibly could, and there’s no better evidence of that than a national championship- something nobody on the current roster has done before.
The first step to doing that is now complete. Barring a 50 point loss to a Vanderbilt type team in the first game of the SEC Tournament, the Gators are going to be the overall #1 seed in the tournament. Sure, Wichita State is undefeated, but so are these Gators with a fully healthy roster, and that includes wins over Kansas, Memphis, Arkansas, Tennessee (twice), Missouri, and Kentucky (twice)- all NCAA Tournament teams or close to it. WSU’s best win is over a St. Louis team that will be lucky to get a #6 seed the way they’re playing right now. But even if Florida doesn’t get the #1 overall seed, they’re a lock for a #1 seed in a region, which means their road to the Final Four will be as easy as anybody’s will be. They’re guaranteed to play their Round 64 and Round 32 games in Orlando, and more likely than not to play the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 in Memphis (the closest of the four regional sites), and the teams they face will go from easiest to hardest, meaning less possibility of an early round slip-up.
But I’m going to be taking a much more detailed look in this team’s future- and their potential legacy- later in the week, so I’m going to save the really deep, heartfelt gushing about them for then. I’ll save the suspense of said incoming article, and leave y’all with this: the Florida Gators are dangerous. They are my pick to win the national championship.