Top-ranked Florida overcame its largest deficit against an SEC team the entire season to get a 56-49 win against Tennessee on Saturday and advance to final of the SEC tournament against No. 2 seed Kentucky.
The Gators (31-2) held the Volunteers (21-12) to 14 points in the second half, with only six points and one field goal in the final 12:16 of the game. Tennessee, which lost to Florida for the third time just over a month, had taken a 43-38 lead on a jumper by Jarnell Stokes when the offense went silent.
“I thought the second half we did a really, really good job defensively,” said Gators coach Billy Donovan, in the finals for the third time in four years. “We held them to 14 points, that was a big factor and really didn’t let them get going behind the 3-point line (2 of 13), which was good.”
The win extended Florida’s school record winning streak to 25 in a row.
Florida trailed 35-28 at the half. The Gators were down 33-23 at one point in the closing two minutes, the largest deficit in a conference game all season. Florida trailed Auburn by nine late in the first half on Feb. 19.
It was also the Gators’ second-largest deficit all season. Florida trailed Wisconsin by 11 midway through the second half of a Nov. 12 loss — the Gators’ first defeat of the season.
Kentucky (24-9) jumped on third-seeded Georgia (19-12) to take a quick early lead and advanced to the finals with a 70-58 win. The Gators beat the Wildcats twice in the last month — 69-59 at Kentucky and 84-65 in Gainesville in the regular season finale.
Tennessee started the game by attacking inside, breaking an 11-11 tie with a 10-3 run. Florida got within 23-21 and trailed 25-23 when the Vols scored eight straight to take their biggest lead.
Scottie Wilbekin, who had 13 first half points, hit a three to cut the margin at the halftime buzzer. Both teams shot over 50 percent in the first 20 minutes but UT had 20 points in the paint and held the Gators to just five attempts behind the arc (all by Wilbekin).
“Being down, we have been in situations like this before,” Florida senior center Patric Young said. “We have a lot of experience in getting blown out or coming back from situations like that. We just were locked in and focused on one possession at a time.”
Florida opened the second half with a quick five minute run and retook the lead at 38-37. It was the first time UF led since being up 9-7 at the start of the contest.
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SOURCE: USA Today