No. 8 Florida starts slow but beats Georgia
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- Scottie Wilbekin helped No. 8 Florida get through a sluggish first half.
His teammates took it from there.
Wilbekin matched a career high with 17 points -- scoring 13 before halftime -- and the Gators romped past another Southeastern Conference opponent, beating Georgia 64-47 on Wednesday night.
Florida (15-2, 5-0 SEC) trailed 27-24 at the break, making just 1 of 9 attempts beyond the 3-point arc. But the Gators quickly turned things around after the break. Wilbekin and Mike Rosario hit consecutive 3s and forced Georgia into three straight turnovers.
The Gators led the rest of way, holding Georgia (7-11, 1-4) to only one field goal in the first 11 1-2 minutes of the second half.
"My shots were falling," Wilbekin said. "They were opening up the lane. I was able to drive in the first half. They made it easy for me."
Everyone else was struggling, but the Gators looked more familiar in the second half. Florida knocked down 7 of 11 from outside the stripe and turned up the defensive pressure, limiting Georgia to 32 percent shooting (6 of 19) from the field. The Bulldogs finished with 17 turnovers, compared to just seven for Florida.
"We knew it was going to be a grind-it-out, physical game," Gators coach Billy Donovan said. "They were not going to get in a running game with us. They were going to run some clock. They forced us to dig a little deeper."
Despite never leading in the first half, Florida added to its run of dominance in conference play. The Gators have won their first five SEC games by an average of nearly 25 points.
Wilbekin, who was averaging 8.3 points a game, equaled his career best from a November victory over Central Florida. Kenny Boynton added 14 points, while Erik Murphy had 13.
"Scottie and the Georgia turnovers kept us close," Donovan said. "We could've been down 10 or 12. To only be down by three at the half, we were fortunate."
Florida already had beaten Georgia 77-44 two weeks ago in Gainesville, but the Bulldogs were more competitive in this one, at least for a half. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the home team with 16 points.
No other Georgia player was in double figures.
"A tale of two halves," Bulldogs coach Mark Fox said. "We didn't start the second half well at all. We just couldn't stabilize our defense in the second half. We just couldn't find a way to get stops in the second half, and they shot the ball very well."
Before a half-filled Stegeman Coliseum, the Bulldogs went right at the Gators from the opening tip, scoring the first six points and quickly building an 11-2 lead. Florida tied it a couple of times but, surprisingly, never had the lead before the break.
Georgia stayed on top with accurate shooting from beyond the arc, knocking down 6 of 11 by halftime. The Gators, by comparison, made just 1 of 9.
Caldwell-Pope finished off the half by swishing a long 3-pointer just before the buzzer, sending the Bulldogs racing off the court with the lead.
It didn't last.
"We were feeling good about the first half," Caldwell-Pope said. "We just wanted to throw the first punch, and we did. To start the second half, we gave up a couple of 3s and the momentum."
Florida has won 17 of the last 20 in the series and made up for a 76-62 loss in Athens late last season.
"We remembered what happened last year," Wilbekin said. "We weren't going to let that happen again."
Georgia was coming off its first SEC win of the season, a 67-58 victory over LSU. But the Bulldogs just didn't have enough talent or depth to knock off the Gators, having already lost non-conference games at home to Youngstown State, Southern Miss and Iona.
"They played harder than us in the first half," Boynton said. "Coach wanted us to come out in the second half and, no matter what we had going offensively, just get back together on defense. We tried to push up on them defensively in the second half to take away their 3-point shots and force them to drive."
It worked. After doing so much damage from 3-point range, the Bulldogs got off only one long-range attempt in the final 20 minutes (and made it, too).
The Bulldogs' offensive woes were summed up by Kenny Gaines, who went up for a dunk with about 5 minutes left but didn't even clear the rim. The crowd groaned, many of them deciding that was a good time to head for home.
By the end, there were only a smattering of fans left, most of them wearing blue.