New Orleans, LA – Atlanta, GA (SportsNetwork.com) - Michael Frazier II and Patric Young scored 14 points apiece as top-ranked Florida held off Kentucky 61-60 to capture the SEC Tournament title.
The Gators (32-2) led by as many as 16 in the second half, but saw that cushion evaporate to just one point, 61-60, with 90 seconds to go following James Young's 3-pointer.
After trading empty possessions, the Wildcats (24-10) sent SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin to the free throw line with 23 seconds to go.
Wilbekin, a 74 percent shooter from the line, missed the front end of the 1- and-1, but Dorian Finney-Smith was there to secure the rebound before he was fouled. Finney-Smith, though, also missed his first attempt and this time Kentucky came down with the board.
Following a timeout with 14 seconds left, Young took a pass near the right wing and cut to the basket, but tripped and lost control of the ball and Kentucky was unable to get a shot off before time expired.
"I wasn't really thinking at all. I was just trying to get to the basket. I just took too much of a wide step and just slipped. That's just on me," said Young.
With the victory, Florida's 26th straight, the Gators locked up the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and will face the winner of Albany/Mount Saint Mary's on Thursday. Albany and Mount Saint Mary's will battle for 16th seed in the South Region in a first-round matchup on Tuesday.
Wilbekin and Casey Prather added 11 points apiece to help the Gators capture their fourth SEC Tournament title. Florida won the SEC Tournament three straight years from 2005-2007.
"I would say that our guys have learned is in the moment of something negative happening, being able to move past it and let it go and refocus to the next thing. That's what they have learned to do," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
Aaron Harrison scored 16 points, Young added 13 and Andrew Harrison and Willie Cauley-Stein finished with 10 points apiece for Kentucky, which was vying for its 27th SEC Tournament title.
Kentucky earned an at-large bid and will be the eighth-seed in the Midwest region and face Kansas State on Friday.
Prather's layup made it 46-30 less than two minutes into the second half and the teams traded blows from there. Young's dunk gave the Gators a 54-39 lead with 11:03 to play, but an 14-0 run from Kentucky pulled the Wildcats within four, 54-53. Aaron Harrison scored seven points on the surge
Frazier stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer from the left wing to push Florida's spread back to two possessions, 57-53. After Andrew Harrison missed a trey, Wilbekin blew by his defender on the right side and went in for a tough layup to make it a six-point game.
A pair of Andrew Harrison free throws, followed by an Aaron Harrison layup, pulled Kentucky back within two, 59-57, with 2:14 to go. On the ensuing trip, Wilbekin found Young on the right block with a beautiful bounce pass and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year dropped one in high off the glass for a 61-57 lead.
Young's 3-pointer made it 61-60, but Florida clamped down on defense down the stretch. The Gators never trailed on Sunday.
"I think we got a little stagnant on the offensive side, which led to a lot of transition, easy run-out baskets for them. Then we were fouling a lot in the second," Young said. "We just tried to figure out that we weren't getting things going on offense as well as we were in the first half, so we just tried to lock in and focus on defense to stop that run and stop the bleeding a little bit."
Frazier opened the game with a pair of 3-pointers for a quick six-point lead. A pair of Andrew Harrison free throws at the 15:27 mark had Kentucky within a point, but a 13-6 sequence from the Gators pushed their lead to 22-14.
Florida's lead swelled to 14, 35-21, with 4:41 left in the first half, but the Wildcats scored six straight to cut the deficit to single digits, 35-27.
Florida led 40-30 entering the break.
Florida improved to 15-2 in games decided by single digits this season, and 5-1 in games decided by three or fewer points ... The Gators outscored the Wildcats 22-18 in the paint ... Florida was 8-for-19 from 3-point range ... Julius Randle, who entered the game second in the country with 20 double- doubles, was held to just four points and seven rebounds ... The Gators were a woeful 7-of-17 from the free throw line ... Kentucky hasn't won the SEC Tournament since 2011 ... Kentucky was 18-for-51 from the field, but went 21- for-26 from the free throw line ... Kentucky was swept in three games for the first time since losing all three matchups to Tennessee in 1979.