Florida Still Head and Shoulders Above Kentucky in SEC-Showdown Victory

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Florida Still Head and Shoulders Above Kentucky in SEC-Showdown Victory
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Neither team led by more than seven points until the final minute of Florida's 69-59 win over Kentucky, but the Gators' senior leadership ended up being more than the Wildcats' freshmen could handle.

ESPN's Shannon Spake asked Florida's Scottie Wilbekin after the game how valuable the experience was for them in this game.

"I think that's what pulled us over," Wilbekin said. "Four seniors, I love them; we stick together, and it's a team effort with all the young guys that we have. They've done a great job of stepping into their roles."

He can praise the team effort all he wants, but Wilbekin was the hero on Saturday night. He had a modest first half, but he scored 18 after the intermission to finish the game with 23 points, seemingly always putting the ball in the basket right when the team needed it most.

Casey Prather was also huge for Florida, scoring 24 points on 8-of-9 shooting while adding four steals on the defensive end.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In addition to the contributions from those leading scorers, turnovers were one of the biggest keys to victory for Florida.

The Gators committed just five turnovers in the game, with none coming in the final 11 minutesduring which time they outscored Kentucky by a 31-14 margin. Florida's starting backcourt—Wilbekin and Michael Frazier III—played 68 minutes without committing a single turnover.

Of course, that's business as usual as of late for Kentucky. Only once in their previous four games had the Wildcats forced more than eight turnovers on defense, and that was against an exceptionally turnover-prone Mississippi State team. Kentucky entered the game 300th in the nation in forcing turnovers, according to KenPom.com (subscription required).

Another crucial component to Florida's victory was the ability to control the defensive glass.

Kentucky entered the game leading the nation in offensive rebounding percentage at 43.2 percent, according to KenPom.com (subscription required). In their most recent game against Auburn, the Wildcats grabbed more offensive rebounds (22) than Auburn did defensively (21).

At halftime on Saturday night, Kentucky had just two offensive rebounds. The Wildcats would finish the game with nine, but it was only 33.3 percent of the potential rebounds from Kentucky misseswell below their season average.

Julius Randle was able to amass a double-double, but Patric Young and Will Yeguete kept Kentucky's seven-footers from doing anything. Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson combined for just four points, four rebounds and four personal fouls in 40 minutes of action.

The real difference-maker in the game, though, was John Calipari's technical foul.

Kentucky had just regained a 48-47 lead after Randle made two free throws when Calipari was suddenly whistled for a technical foul. He had been barking at the officials for a while, and they apparently had enough. Wilbekin made the free throws, Casey Prather scored on the next possession and Kentucky never took the lead again.

But perhaps that's just a testament to how mentally tough this Florida team is.

Despite shooting just 44.0 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from three-point range for the game, the Gators were given an opportunity, and they took it. As it has been doing all season, the defense kept them alive long enough to make their strike.

Florida has now held 13 of its last 15 opponents to 62 or fewer points. The Gators are now fifth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com (subscription required).

Frankly, the Gators are making a mockery of the SEC. They are now 12-0 in conference play and have a three-game lead over second-place Kentucky. Of those 12 wins, the only one that was decided by fewer than six points was an overtime win at Arkansas in which Prather didn't play, and Wilbekin played with an injured ankle.

Forget about being the kings of the SEC, though. With Arizona losing on Friday night and Syracuse struggling in recent home wins over Pittsburgh and North Carolina State, Florida just might be best in all the land.

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Coming into the game, Kentucky was 81-2 at home since Calipari took over before the 2009-10 season and 11-0 against ranked opponents. Kentucky had won 22-straight home games dating back to last January.

So much for those streaks.

The last time Florida won at Kentucky was on Feb. 10, 2007. The win pushed the Gators to 23-2 on the season. They would eventually win the national championship.

Florida is now 23-2.

Do you believe in deja vu?

Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @.

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