March 15, 2014
By Brian Edwards
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Florida (31-2 straight up, 16-12-1 against the spread) has never beaten Kentucky three times in the same season. The top-ranked Gators will have a chance to pull that trick when they take on the Wildcats in Sunday's SEC Tournament finals at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
ABC will have the telecast at 3:15 p.m. Eastern. Sportsbook.ag was the first book to post a line early Saturday night, opening UF as a 6.5-point favorite.
Billy Donovan's team withstood a game effort from Tennessee in Saturday's semifinals showdown. The Volunteers led by 10 late in the first half before Scottie Wilbekin buried a deep 3-pointer with a few ticks remaining to slice the deficit to 35-28 at intermission.
This opened up an opportunity for gamblers to take UF as a five-point favorite in the second half. This wager translated to having the Gators at +2 adjusted.
It was a sharp play because Florida clamped down on the Volunteers defensively in the final 20 minutes, holding them to just 14 points. With clutch free-throw shooting and a fortunate call(s) that went their way (and then resulted in a technical foul against UT's Jeronne Maymon), the Gators pulled away to win their 25th consecutive game by a 56-49 count as six-point favorites.
Trailing by five in the final seconds, UT missed from deep and fouled UF senior center Patric Young with 2.5 seconds remaining. Tennessee had been ahead of the number (+6) for 39 minutes and 57.5 seconds, but the spread cover was on the line when Young stepped to the charity stripe.
There have been many great storylines around Florida's fantastic campaign led by its four seniors. One of them has been the improvement of Young at the free-throw line. He was in the same exact situation as New Mexico center Alex Kirk was against Boise St. in Friday's MWC Tournament semifinals. With 1.2 seconds left, Kirk missed both free throws with a chance to hook UNM backers with a spread cover.
But Young didn't disappoint bettors on UF, burying both attempts to give UT backers a gut-wrenching loss. The spread cover was the fifth straight for the Gators, who took the cash in a 72-49 win over Missouri in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Kentucky (24-9 SU, 14-15-2 ATS) advanced to the finals by wearing down Georgia in a 70-58 win as an eight-point 'chalk.' Aaron Harrison scored a game-high 22 points thanks to 7-of-10 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 from three-point land. Julius Randle added 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Wildcats, who took out LSU in Friday's quarterfinals.
John Calipari's team has seemingly found new life in 'Catlanta, where the Big Blue Nation invades with enthusiasm every March that the city hosts the event. UK had struggled mightily during the last few weeks of the regular season, dropping three of its last four games.
Even worse for our purposes, the 'Cats failed to cover the number in five consecutive contests. Wins at Rupp Arena didn't come easy at all against Alabama and LSU. The Crimson Tide led UK by five at halftime in Lexington.
LSU was on the verge of winning outright at Rupp on February 22. However, with the Tigers leading by two with just a few seconds remaining, Randle was given a bail-out call to put him at the free-throw line. Replays clearly showed that Randle was never fouled and he clearly walked before the (non)-foul was called.
Randle buried both free throws to force overtime and UK eventually captured a 77-76 victory.
In the regular-season finale at Florida, UF sent out its senior-laden squad in style with an 84-65 win as a nine-point home favorite. Young was the catalyst with 18 points and seven rebounds, and Casey Prather needed only five shots from the field (all makes) to contribute 15 points. In the losing effort for UK, Randle finished with 16 points and 10 boards.
These bitter SEC rivals met for the first time at Rupp on February 15. Florida trailed for a good chunk of the game, only to turn it on in the final 10 minutes en route to a 69-59 win as a 2.5-point road underdog.
Prather led the way with a game-high 24 points. In two games against UK this year, the senior slasher has made 13-of-14 shots from the floor. Wilbekin added 23 points. For the 'Cats, Andrew Harrison had a team-best 20 points, while James Young finished with 19. Randle had a double-double with 13 points and 13 boards.
The 'under' is 6-2 in the last eight head-to-head meetings between these programs. The 'under' has been a major money maker in UF games this year, cashing at a 19-9 overall clip. The 'under' is 17-12-1 overall for Kentucky.
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