Florida passes its toughest test of season

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Fourth-ranked Florida was finally tested in Southeastern Conference play on Saturday night.

The Gators had a little trouble, but they still aced it.

Florida never trailed and led by double digits for more than 30 minutes in a 78-64 victory over Ole Miss in front of 12,522 at the O’Connell Center. The 14 points was the lowest margin of victory the Gators have had in SEC play -- and they still were never in danger of losing the game.

"This was our toughest game, by far," point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "They didn’t make it easy on us. We had to come out and play our best basketball. They had a lot of different weapons and we just had to try and shut them down."

Florida (18-2, 8-0 SEC) had won its previous seven SEC games by an average of 28.3 points. The Gators had beaten four opponents by 31 or more points and the closest game they had played was a 17-point victory at Georgia -- a team they had beaten by 33 points to open league play.

Florida took a double-digit lead with 10 minutes, 20 seconds remaining in the first half and Ole Miss (17-4, 6-2) never got closer than 12 points in the second half. That’s despite getting 25 points from Marshall Henderson, who made 7-of-11 3-pointers. The SEC’s leading scorer had to work for his points, though, and made several leaners and tough shots over Wilbekin and guard Kenny Boynton.

"He’s going to get his shots up," UF forward Erik Murphy said. "He’s going to get to the free-throw line. He’s really good at that. He’s crafty. We just wanted to try to limit his open shots. I think we did a pretty good job of that. He hit some tough ones. Some of the shots he hit, up-and-under, step-in, floater 3s, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody do that."

But even with Henderson and Murphy Holloway (15 points, seven rebounds), the Rebels were no match for the Gators. Murphy scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds, center Patric Young had a double-double (13 points, 12 rebounds) and Wilbekin added 13 points and seven assists. Boynton had a career-high 10 assists and only two turnovers.

UF forced 13 turnovers and Ole Miss had just five assists on 21 baskets. Henderson went 8-for-15 from the floor, but the rest of the team went 13-for-40 from the field (32.5 percent) -- including 0-for-6 from 3-point range.

Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said he’s never seen anything like the Gators’ defensive performance Saturday.

"This is my seventh Florida team to play [and] one of those was the national championship team that had NBA lottery picks on it," Kennedy said. "I don’t even remember a Florida team guarding with that intensity. I was really impressed with the way they defended.

"… I was hoping that Florida would have a little drought. Just a two-, three-minute phase where they go bored -- and they never got bored."

Florida is now in control of the SEC. The Gators have a two-game lead over Ole Miss, Alabama and Kentucky, all of whom are 6-2. UF’s 8-0 start to league play is the school’s best since the second of the Gators’ back-to-back national championship teams started 11-0 in 2007.

"We’re happy where we are, but it’s just so quick," Boynton said. "There are 18 games in the SEC schedule so it could change. We’ve got to take each game one at a time."