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Kasey Hill not letting Senior Night hype get in way of winning

Kasey Hill knows the importance of Wednesday’s game against Arkansas.

Yes, it will be his final game in the O’Connell Center.

Yes, it marks the beginning of the end of the point guard’s UF career.

But Hill isn’t focusing on that.

With No. 12 Florida coming off a 76-66 loss to Kentucky -- the Gators’ first defeat in five week -- and two games left before the postseason begins, Hill and UF are using this final week of the regular season to regain their stride when it matters the most.

“I just want to go out and win," Hill said.

Winning has had a love-hate relationship with Hill and the Gators over the point guard’s four years in Gainesville.

During Hill’s freshman season, Florida rattled off 30 straight wins and went perfect in Southeastern Conference play to reach the program’s first Final Four since the 2006-07 season. Hill was primarily the team’s backup point guard behind then-senior Scottie Wilbekin.

The next two years were a rollercoaster. Florida suffered its first losing season since the 1997-98 year. Longtime head coach Billy Donovan left after that season to become the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Mike White, an up-and-coming head coach out of Louisiana Tech, followed. Florida went 21-15 and missed out on the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.

"It's been up and down,” Hill said.

But in his final season, Florida has been winning and Hill has been playing with the aggression and finesse Donovan wanted out of Hill when he recruited the point guard out of Montverde Academy.

Hill is leading the team in average minutes (28.4), total assists (139) and steals (52) while also posting a career-best 9.5 points per game.

“I think he’s been a great example of perseverance, of character, of work ethic, of filtering out the noise and continuing to do your job and focusing on getting better every day,” White said. “He’s also been a good example of being about the right things, sacrificing a little bit and finishing strong.”

The swift 6-1 guard currently sits second in program history with 508 career assists, 39 away from tying Erving Walker. Hill is also sixth in career steals (174), 30 away from the top spot. He past Wilbekin, his former teammate and mentor, on the list earlier this season.

“He was great on defense,” Hill said of Wilbekin. “I wanted to play like him on defense. … Coach D was like, ‘you’ve got to be like Scottie. You’ve got to defend like Scottie.’ I just watched him a lot.”

As the whole the Gators (23-6, 13-3 SEC) posted nine straight victories before falling to Kentucky at Rupp Arena in a game where John Egbunu’s physical presence in the paint was missed. UF was outrebounded 48-30 in the loss and allowed Kentucky to score 32 points in the paint.

In order to avoid one loss turning into two -- or more -- late in the year, second-year coach Mike White and his Florida team will need to continue finding different ways to win with their center Egbunu sidelined for the year with a torn ACL.

They need spot players like Schuyler Rimmer and Keith Stone to step up on both sides of the court.

They need the guards to continue playing scrappy defense, something Hill thrives with.

“If you’re not playing defense,” Hill said, “you’re not going to play.”

Hill only has so many more games to play.

After this week -- the home finale against Arkansas on Wednesday and a road trip to Vanderbilt on Saturday -- the Gators will play up to three games in the SEC Tournament before returning to the NCAA Tournament.

“It’ll be tough to see Kasey go,” White said.

Hill isn’t worrying about that yet, though. He still has games to win.

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