No pressure, Florida, but the last two times you won the SEC tournament, you went on to be national champions.
The No. 1 Gators are SEC champions in both the regular season and conference tournament and will carry an 26-game winning streak into the NCAA tournament. They outlasted the Kentucky Wildcats in a 61-60 win in Atlanta on Sunday afternoon.
Beating a team three times in the same season can be difficult, especially when that team has as much talent as Kentucky. The Wildcats certainly came closer this time than they did in their previous two tries to knock off the top team in the country.
Maybe they can get a fourth chance in the NCAA tournament.
After the first half, it looked like this game would turn ugly quickly. The Gators had a 40-30 lead at halftime and showed no signs of slowing down during the first few minutes thereafter.
Then, with about 12 minutes left, this turned into a great game.
After watching Florida's lead grow to 15 points, Kentucky went on a 14-0 run in a span of a little over four minutes to make it 54-53 in favor of the Gators.
One of the things that Florida has done so well this season is not panic in the face of a major momentum shift. It's like playing against five real-life versions of Michael Myers; you can shoot them, stab them, set them on fire, whatever—they keep coming right at you and never lose their cool.
Michael Frazier III hit a three-pointer to put the Gators back up four points, and it was as if all the work that Kentucky had done was gone in a flash. That shot seemed to signify that no matter how hard Kentucky tried, Florida would simply be better.
The Wildcats got to within one point and had a chance to take the lead with 33 seconds to go, but Aaron Harrison's shot went begging and Dorian Finney-Smith grabbed the rebound.
Florida had a chance to seal the game with foul shots, but as USA Today's Dan Wolken said, the Gators aren't a particularly good team at the free-throw line. They would finish 7-of-17 from the charity stripe as a team:
Florida = really bad at FTs. Something to watch.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 16, 2014
Finney-Smith and Scottie Wilbekin both missed the front end of one-and-ones, leaving the door open for Kentucky.
The Wildcats had one last chance to win the game, but they couldn't get a shot off. James Young tried driving to the basket, but he ended up falling down as time ran out.
Mike DeCourcy of SportingNews.com questioned why John Calipari didn't try to have his team take a shot earlier in the clock:
Don't know why you go last-shot there.— Michael DeCourcy (@tsnmike) March 16, 2014
After the game, Julius Randle admitted that Kentucky failed to put Florida away when it had the chance, per Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal:
Randle: "We know we can play with any team in the country. We've known that a long time. Just gotta finish guys off."— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) March 16, 2014
Harrison was the leading scorer for the Wildcats, with 16 points. Willie Cauley-Stein came off the bench and finished with a double-double—10 points, 11 rebounds.
Kentucky's poor shooting was its ultimate undoing. It shot 35.3 percent from the field, including 27.3 percent from behind the arc. On the other side, Florida finished at 43.4 percent overall and 42.1 percent from three-point range.
Patric Young and Frazier each had 14 points, while Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin each contributed 11 points.
It wasn't a great performance from the Gators, but the best teams find a way to win even when they aren't at their best. They will, however, need to make the most of their chances at the foul line if they want to make it all the way.
You can't expect to beat top teams when you're throwing that many points down the drain.
Key Player Grades
Julius Randle, Kentucky: D
This tweet summed up Julius Randle's game appropriately:
Julius Randle just cannot score near the basket unless it's a dunk. It's dumbfounding. Chance to get it to 8 missed, UF hits a three.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) March 16, 2014
If this game were a slam dunk contest, Kentucky would have won. It was shocking how poorly Randle was shooting even when he was right under the hoop. He made only one of his seven field goals, scoring only four points.
Aaron Harrison, Kentucky: C+
When Aaron Harrison goes to sleep at night, most of his nightmares will probably involve Florida. In his three games against the Gators this year, he has combined to shoot 10-of-31 for 29 points. Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports.com thought that Florida did a great job of limiting Harrison's opportunities to drive to the basket:
Yup. Gators have completely taken away drives from UK's guards. RT @JeffSchultzAJC: Kentucky's Aaron Harrison: 1 for 10.— Thomas Goldkamp (@Goldkamp247) March 16, 2014
He recovered well in the second half and helped spark Kentucky's late run, but in all, it was an underwhelming performance.
Michael Frazier II, Florida: B+
Nobody on Florida had what you'd consider a sterling performance, but Frazier came as close as any Gator to that standard.
Frazier was one of only three Florida players who shot over 50 percent for the game, nailing five of his eight field goals. Four of those made shots came from three-point range, as the sophomore was Florida's best threat from downtown.
Florida will enter the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. The Gators are the best team in the country by some distance at the moment, and they deserve the honor.
They'll be a dangerous team in the Big Dance, as they play great defense and their offense is balanced to the extent that when one player struggles, two more step up. Florida will likely be the consensus favorite to win it all.
Kentucky was going to be in the tournament regardless of the result. The only thing winning the SEC might have done was boost the Wildcats up to a No. 5 or even No. 4 seed instead of a No. 8, which is where they ended up.
John Calipari has taken a young team to the mountaintop before, so it's not impossible that he could do it again. The difference between now and 2012 is that he doesn't have an otherworldly star like Anthony Davis.