Strong second half propels No. 8 Florida

Scottie Wilbekin continued to play well

After coming out lifeless to start the first half, the Gators got back to their dominant ways in the second half. No. 8 Florida outscored the Bulldogs 40-20 in the second half while running away with a 64-47 win to move to 5-0 in the Southeastern Conference. Junior point guard Scottie Wibelkin continued to play well, tying his career high with 17 points, adding three assists and one steal.

Georgia went to the locker room with all the momentum. Florida tied the score in the first half with 2:04 left in the first half, but as time expired before halftime, Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit a long three-pointer to give the Bulldogs a 27-24 lead at the break.

The Gators came out with a different look in the second half. The defense played up to the same levels as the first four conference games where it was one of the best in the country. Florida held the Bulldogs to 20 points in the second half, with 10 of those coming in the final four minutes of the game.

"It all started with our defense," Florida coach Billy Donovan said on his postgame radio show. "The first possession of the second half, we had a good stop. We were able to score on the other end of the floor. We got consecutive stops in a row."

As it has been all year, the defense sparked the offense. After shooting 50% in the first half, the Bulldogs were stifled to 31.6% in the second half. Georgia also turned the ball over 17 times compared to just seven for Florida.

The Gators were fighting to stay in the game in the first half. Georgia burst out to an 11-2 lead in the first four minutes of the game while the Florida defense was out of position.

"What kept us in the game in the first half was Scottie Wilbekin and the fact that we forced nine turnovers," Donovan said.

Wilbekin continued his strong play for the Gators. The junior point guard scored 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting from the field and 2-for-3 from behind the three-point line. He ran the Florida offense well throughout the game, turning the ball over just once, while playing 36 minutes.

The Gators allowed six three-pointers for Georgia in the first half. It was a rare struggle at three-point defense, something Florida has been dominant at this season. That was only one of the things that threw Florida out of rhythm.

"I thought we were extremely lucky to be down three," Donovan said. "We should've been down double figure points. When you look at their field goal percentage and what they're shooting from the three-point line, you've got to say, with our shooting percentage that we've got to be down 10-12 points. The fact that we were down three was a blessing.

"We just had no flow at all."

Caldwell-Pope was the only Georgia player in double figures, just as he was in the first meeting between the teams on January 9. He scored 16 points on 5-for-11 shooting from the field in 35 minutes on the court.

"He's a terrific player," Donovan said. "We did not do a great job on him. At one point in the second half, he went right around us on a pick-and-roll coverage and took a layup. He's very explosive off the dribble. When he gets a head of steam, he's hard to control.

The 17-point win was the closest outcome of the five conference games this season for Florida. Donovan thinks the close first half was good for his team after playing without facing much resistance in the first two weeks of conference play.

"I'm proud of our guys because we gutted the win out," Donovan said. "It wasn't a pretty thing where we were just coming down and everything was easy. This was a hard fought, tough, tough, grind out win. That was good for our team's resolve and being persistent and more resilient in these kind of games."

The Gators return to action on Saturday at Mississippi State (7-10, 2-3 SEC) at 8 p.m.

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