No. 1 Florida beats LSU 79-61, 21st straight win
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s seniors, those four guys who fell just short of the Final Four the last three years, talked about cutting down the nets after clinching the Southeastern Conference’s regular-season championship.
It was a brief conversation. And a unanimous decision.
The top-ranked Gators chose not to break out the scissors. If they keep playing like they did against LSU on Saturday, they might end up with an even bigger celebration.
Dorian Finney-Smith scored 16 points, and Florida used a season-high 13 3-pointers to overwhelm the Tigers 79-61 and extend its school-record winning streak to 21 games.
“Everybody on the team didn’t feel comfortable cutting them down right now because we knew we have more of a journey to go,” guard Casey Prather said.
Prather and Michael Frazier II added 14 points apiece for the Gators, who also won their 31st straight at home.
This one was never in doubt.
Florida (27-2, 16-0 SEC) scored the first eight points of the game, opened up a double-digit lead with consecutive 3-pointers from DeVon Walker and Finney-Smith and put the game away early in the second half with a flurry of points in the paint.
Prather made three consecutive driving finger rolls after the break. Patric Young had a dunk and then a left-handed hook shot. And Prather followed with a dunk and another driving layup that put Florida up 62-38 with about 11 minutes remaining.
About the only thing left to see was whether Florida would cut down the nets.
The Gators clinched the title Thursday night with Kentucky’s loss to Arkansas, and many expected they would ceremoniously celebrate in front of a sellout crowd Saturday.
It was never going to happen. Prather, Young and fellow seniors Scottie Wilbekin and Will Yeguete chose not to cut down the nets.
“We felt it was given to us when Kentucky lost,” Wilbekin said. “I was sitting on my couch watching TV. I didn’t do anything.”
Coach Billy Donovan wouldn’t have let them do it anyway, especially not with what happened in 2007. That team, the defending national champion led by Joakim Noah and Al Horford, cut down home nets after winning the SEC title and then lost its next two games.
“I regret that,” Donovan said.
Although Donovan believes his senior-laden team can handle distractions, he figures it’s best to stay focused on the goals within reach.
“You want to be playing well this time of year,” Donovan said. “When you get to this point in time of the season, you don’t want to play like you’re trying to protect something, when you’re back on your heels, ‘We don’t want to lose being No. 1 and we don’t want to lose at home and we want to keep the streak going.’
“Once you get into trying to avoid things and trying to prevent things from happening, I think inevitably you get tight, you get frozen and you don’t play. The biggest thing for us that I’ve been trying to explain for our guys is there are things out there for us to chase. What are we going to chase? What are we going to go after?”
Florida looked every bit like a championship-caliber team against LSU — and in dominant fashion.
The Gators had been in a number of nail-biters in recent weeks, winning their previous seven games by 10 points or less. They either trailed or were tied at halftime in each of those.
This one was the complete opposite.
The Gators never trailed. They led 41-25 at halftime and didn’t even have a second-half lull.
“It says a lot about the team,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “They sit there and they’ve already clinched the championship and for guys to come out and play as motivated and as hard as they did tonight. ... I think when you have a senior team like they are and guys are able to make plays like that and are used to winning, some great things can happen for you.”
Johnny O’Bryant III led the Tigers (17-11, 8-8) with 18 points. Jordan Mickey added 14 points and 10 rebounds for LSU, which lost its seventh straight on the road.
There was little LSU could do to stop Florida, which just got hot from the 3-point line. The Gators made 13 of 23 from behind the arc. It was just the fourth time this season that they reached double digits in 3s.
“I was happy our guys shot the ball with confidence and it was good to see the ball go in the basket for those guys,” Donovan said.