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Monday, February 17, 2014
Determination pays for Gators

By Dick Vitale
ESPN.com

Something had to give Saturday night at Rupp Arena.

Kentucky came into its game against Florida with a 22-game home win streak and an overall 81-2 home record under John Calipari.

Florida arrived at Rupp with a 16-game win streak, but the Gators had not won in Lexington since 2007.

What made the difference for Florida, as it pulled away for a 69-59 win and a school record-tying 17th straight win?

The Gators have a tough winner's mentality. The seniors on the team wanted that elusive W at Rupp. You could see it in the eyes of Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin; they wanted that victory so badly. It wasn't just about moving a step closer to winning the SEC regular-season title, those kids wanted a win on that floor.

Casey Prather
Casey Prather and Florida ended a seven-year losing streak at Rupp Arena on Saturday.

It's always special when you see that Kentucky jersey, becuase it brings the best out of you. It is the same when facing Duke or North Carolina on the hardwood, Notre Dame in football or the Yankees in baseball.

But Florida was not intimidated at all and played with purpose. This is an experienced Gators club and that was a factor.

This was such an important game for Kentucky. The Wildcats' resume really has one outstanding win, over rival Louisville. This season, you will not get many opportunities to score a marquee win in the SEC, as the league is a bit down.

This was really a game of contrasting styles. The Wildcats attack the basket and get to the foul line often. Florida plays strong team defense and does not commit too many fouls.

Kentucky could not make enough shots down the stretch and its youth was a factor. You could see it in the Wildcats' body language and expressions when they missed. There was a sense of frustration. This team has a lot of talent but fell short.

On Florida's side, Wilbekin has been a clutch player for the Gators all season long. He makes key plays and is almost automatic on the foul line in late-game situations, as he was Saturday in helping the Gators seal the win. When you start putting together an All-SEC team, Wilbekin belongs on the list. He is getting better and better.

To win basketball games, you have to do the little things well. Florida was able to get second chance opportunities, convert free throws down the stretch and get big stops on the defensive end.

One other thing about Florida -- you will always get its best shot. There will always be a great effort as those kids have pride in that uniform. They believe in Donovan, who is a future Hall of Famer in my book.

Florida has made three straight Elite Eights. The goal this season is a trip to Texas and the Final Four. The win at Kentucky will give Donovan's team some added confidence and I believe the Gators will run the table for the rest of the SEC regular season.