LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Scottie Wilbekin scored 23 points, including five critical free throws down the stretch, and No. 3 Florida rallied for a tense 69-59 victory over No. 14 Kentucky on Saturday night in a matchup of the Southeastern Conference’s top teams.
The Gators tied a school record with their 17th straight win. It was their first victory at Rupp Arena since 2007.
Trailing 45-38 with 11:12 remaining, the veteran Gators (23-2, 12-0) turned to their best players down the stretch of their first victory at Rupp Arena since 2007. Wilbekin went 11 of 12 at the line, including two technical free throws with 8:14 left.
Casey Prather scored 24 points for Florida on 8-of-9 shooting. Patric Young added 10 points, including two three-point plays during a 13-3 spurt that put the Gators ahead for good.
Andrew Harrison scored 20 points for Kentucky (19-6, 9-3), which had won 22 consecutive home games.
Prather’s three-point play with 38 seconds remaining helped complete Florida’s rare road sweep of Kentucky and Tennessee in the same week.
Kentucky outrebounded Florida 31-28 but couldn’t grab an errant shot at the biggest moments, especially on the offensive end. The Gators took advantage for a 12-8 edge in second-chance points but basically controlled the paint, outscoring the Wildcats 34-22.
James Young added 19 points for the Wildcats, who shot 48 percent but didn’t score in the final 1:55. Julius Randle had 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Florida will host Kentucky in the rematch on March 8, but the victory puts the Gators in firm control of the conference race. It also strengthened their resume for a possible No. 1 seed in next month’s NCAA tournament.
Florida’s experience and poise — especially before a loud, partisan crowd and a prime-time audience — trumped Kentucky’s youth, especially in pressure moments throughout the second half. The Gators improved to 3-2 against ranked teams.
The first half certainly lived up to the hype with seven ties, six lead changes. Kentucky held the largest edge at just seven points, which Florida whittled to 31-28 at the break. Randle had 10 points at halftime.
Patric Young led Florida’s 13-3 run over 3:19 for a 51-48 lead with 8:01 remaining. The 6-foot-9 senior sandwiched three-point plays around a 3-pointer by Wilbekin — who added two technical free throws — followed by Prather’s jumper that provided the Gators’ first lead since the first half.