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HOOPS: No. 2 Gators stave off upset bid, win 18th straight

 

GAINESVILLE -- For nearly 40 minutes, a heavyweight bout between David and Goliath broke out in the O'Connell Center. 

Fortunately for No. 2 Florida, Auburn -- 17-point underdogs entering Wednesday's showdown -- eventually ran out of stones. 

The Gators (24-2, 13-0 Southeastern Conference) won their 18th straight, as senior center Patric Young delivered a monster second half to stave off AU's upset bid en route to a 71-66 victory. 

Young sank a pair of clutch free throws with 19.4 seconds remaining, as Auburn Auburn'd down the stretch while the Gators rallied late facing (mounting) pressure. 

Young was (un)intentionally fouled by center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum after AU guard Chris Denson missed the possible go-ahead free throw. 

"I just told myself, 'Be great. Strive to be great right now,'" Young said. 

The Tigers (12-12, 4-9 SEC) threw away the ensuing impounds pass, capping a sudden imposition following a fearless effort most of the night. 

"We beat ourselves in those waning moments," AU coach Tony Barbee said. "But they didn't beat themselves, so give them credit."

Young, dealing with chronic knee pain, wasn't even expected to play Wednesday and his first half effort looked like he'd made the wrong choice to suit up. 

But the senior responded with a Herculean effort after halftime, scoring all 17 of his points in the second half, adding seven rebounds and three assists. 

"I thought Pat was just phenomenal," UF coach Billy Donovan said. 

But for most of the game, the Gators were anything but. 

Florida trailed by eight at halftime (38-30), its largest home deficit this season. Following two tough road battles last week, the Gators -- visibly mentally and physically fatigued -- played like they were running on fumes. 

"I thought Auburn outplayed us," Donovan said. "No question we're going to get everyone's best shot, but 'Are we going to give them our best shot?' I didn't think we did that today."

Florida struggled defensively, especially guarding the three-point line, as the Tigers drained 10 treys -- six in the first half. 

Freshman guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen tied a career-high, scoring 17 points with five 3-pointers.  

"We didn't play very well in the first half, but we never gave up," senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. 

The Gators opened the second half on an 11-3 run but the game settled into a rowdy see-saw affair until Wilbekin (15 points, four assists), Prather (16 points, nine rebounds) and Young made the necessary plays late. 

Florida finished the win on an 8-1 run, holding the Tigers scoreless from the field over the final three minutes of the game.  

"We only got motivated because the game was in doubt," Donovan said. "I am very glad we won and I thought our guys showed resiliency."

THIS & THAT

Sophomore sniper-shooter Michael Frazier drilled a go-ahead triple with 41 seconds left in the game, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Frazier briefly exited the win with an apparent left hand injury, but Donovan said the sophomore is "fine." … The Gators shot 82 percent from the charity stripe (23-of-28), their best mark in conference play this season. … UF extended its school-record home winning streak to 30 games. … Dorian Finney-Smith was 0-for-4 from downtown. The redshirt sophomore has missed his last 21 attempts since Jan. 30. 

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"One of the things I talk to our guys about is that with our rankings and being undefeated in the league we get everyone's best shot," Donovan said. "But I like to look at it the other way. Are we going to give our best shot? I don't think that we did that today."

- Billy D -

#1 don't mean ssshhit unless you finish First.

Rowdy Reptiles chompin' away!

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