ATLANTA – It took Florida more than a half to get going, but once the Gators did, they looked every bit like the No. 1 team in the country.
Senior guard Scottie Wilbekin hit two of his five 3-pointers in a game-turning, 12-0 run midway in the second half and Florida defeated Missouri 72-49 in the Southeastern Conference quarterfinals Friday at the Georgia Dome.
The Gators, who have won 24 games in a row to improve to 30-2, made 12-of-21 3-pointers in the game and outscored Missouri 34-13 over the last 11 minutes, seemingly ending the NCAA tournament hopes of the Tigers (22-11).
“I don’t think we did a good job matching their effort in the first half,” Wilbekin said.
That certainly wasn’t the case in the second half, though.
“It all started with Scottie’s steal,” said Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II, who matched Wilbekin’s 15 points. “We feed off him.”
Wilbekin and Frazier were a combined 10-of-13 from behind the 3-point arc. The only other double-figure scorer for the Gators was sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith with 10 points.
“A lot of things were set up for us not to play well,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan, noting his team’s long layoff and the all the hoopla surrounding the Gators’ record 18-0 SEC regular season.
“Coach told us at halftime that if we want to be great, you have to have great effort,” Finney-Smith said.
Florida, which received its SEC regular-season championship trophy before the game, scored the first seven points of the second half to break a tie and go up 36-29. Missouri, though, was within 38-36 before the Gators went on their blitz. That gave them a 14-point lead with seven minutes remaining, and things only got worse for Missouri.
Guard Jabari Brown, who was 10-of-12 from the foul line, led the Tigers with 18 points and Jordan Clarkson, also a junior guard, scored 11.
“They got some turnovers and hit some 3s,” Brown said. “Those were big blows.”
The game was painfully similar for the Tigers to the teams’ regular-season meeting at Florida on Feb. 4, only more devastating.
Missouri held a 28-25 halftime lead in that game, but the Gators went on a 16-3 run in the second half en route to a 68-58 victory.
This time Florida took its first lead 10 minutes into the game on Wilbekin’s third 3-pointer in as many tries and led by six three times before Missouri sophomore forward Ryan Rosburg dunked at the intermission buzzer for a tie at 29.
The Gators were 6-of-12 on 3-pointers in the first half, but 3-for-14 from inside the arc and 5-for-11 at the foul line. In the second half, though, they shot 57.1 percent overall from the floor.
Missouri had to go two overtimes to defeat Texas A&M 91-83 on Thursday and wore down against the Gators’ increased second-half energy.
“Obviously, Florida’s a great team,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “Hats off to them.”
It is the third time that Florida has reached 30 victories under Donovan, the other two seasons ending with NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007.
“What these guys have done up to this point was truly special,” Donovan said. “But now we’re in a different part of our season.”
NOTES: Florida took five of the six top SEC individual awards, with G Scottie Wilbekin named player of the year and Billy Donovan taking top coaching honors. C Patric Young was selected as the best defensive player and scholar athlete, while F Dorian Finney-Smith was named sixth man of the year. … Gators F Casey Prather joined Wilbekin on the All-SEC first team. … Missouri G Jabari Brown also made the first team. … Florida has not won the SEC tournament since 2007, the year it won its second straight NCAA championship. The Gators lost to Ole Miss in the SEC title game last year.
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