Scottie Wilbekin led five Florida players in double-figures with 14 points and eight assists and Patric Young donated 12 points and 11 boards as the seventh-ranked Gators cruised past No. 25 Kentucky, 69-52, on Tuesday in a Top-25 SEC showdown.
Casey Prather came off the bench to provide 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor for the Gators (20-3, 10-1 SEC), who won their second straight following a loss at Arkansas last Wednesday to take over sole possession of first place in the SEC. Mike Rosario and Eric Murphy had 12 and 10 points, respectively, in the victory.
"They have a bunch of great freshmen players, but we have a bunch of a juniors and seniors," Young said. "We've been through the SEC. We've been through the NCAA Tournament. We've been together through so much. I'm not saying we're entitled to anything, it's just we have experience and we're expected to perform ... and expect ourselves to perform."
Willie Cauley-Stein had 10 points and six rebounds for the Wildcats (17-7, 8-3), who ended a five-game winning streak and lost freshman forward Nerlens Noel to an apparent knee injury around the midway point of the second half.
Noel, who was injured after blocking a Rosario layup attempt, ranks first in the nation in blocked shots with 4.5 per game. He had logged three straight double-doubles entering the contest, but finished with eight points and six rebounds before leaving the game.
As the first half came to a close, Wilbekin brought the crowd to its feet with a behind the back pass to Prather at the top of the arc, who then drove past Cauley-Stein for a highlight one-handed slam and a 34-19 advantage with just under two minutes remaining.
UF forced 11 Kentucky turnovers in the first half which resulted in 15 points. The Gators shot 5-of-7 from behind the arc and the Wildcats only converted 10- of-24 field goals and trailed 38-25.
Florida opened up the second half on a 9-3 run as Prather's layup just over five minutes in made it 47-28. UK fought back to get within 51-38, but Young helped the home team with six straight points -- sandwiched in between a Noel bucket -- for a 57-40 edge with 11 minutes remaining.
With 8:03 to play, Noel tracked down Rosario from behind on a fast break and blocked his shot, but he came down awkwardly on his left knee, clearly in plenty of pain. The highly-touted freshman remained on the floor for a couple minutes before his teammates carried him off the court into the locker room.
"I admire the way he plays," Florida coach Billy Donovan said about Noel. "I admire his energy. When you think about it, the injury came from a hustle play. That kind of embodies the way he plays."
Noel entered the game with averages of 10.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists per contest in 23 games this season. Kentucky, though, looked lost without him and still trailed 57-45.
As the game fell below the five minute mark, the Wildcats' struggles without Noel were evident and Prather's lefty lay-in increased UF's margin to 63-45 before it cruised to the victory the rest of the contest.
"We said, 'Let's guard the 3," and we did," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "Then all of a sudden, it's a 3, it's a 3, it's a 3. ... This was sort of a game that exposed us physically."
The Wildcats took advantage of the Gators early on as Florida missed its first five shots and trailed 4-0. A quick 10-2 surge that lasted three-plus minutes, however, gave the home team a 10-6 lead.
Archie Goodwin's slam with 12:24 left in the first half put UK up 11-10, but the Gators answered with another big swing as Wilbekin capped off a 15-4 flurry with a trey from the right wing to make it 25-15.
Noel not only leads the nation in blocks, but averages an even better 5.7 blocks per game in SEC play ... Kentucky had won five straight games against Florida in the series ... The Gators have not suffered a loss in 12 home tilts this season ... The Gators are now 4-1 against ranked opponents this season, including 4-0 at the O'Connell Center ... UF now has registered 15 straight 20-win seasons, all of which have come under Donovan.