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The Gators' four seniors kiss the O'Dome floor after Saturday's win over Kentucky.

Saturday March 8, 2014Gators Turn Home Finale Into a Lovefest, Acknowledge Rowdy Reptiles for Their Support

The Gators' four seniors kiss the O'Dome floor after Saturday's win over Kentucky.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The game was over and the celebration in full swing Saturday when Patric Young took the microphone for a postgame interview.

Young’s words were being broadcast live over the O’Dome speakers. Young did not talk long before he mentioned the Rowdy Reptiles, thanking Florida’s student section for its raucous support of the No. 1-ranked Gators during their 84-65 win over Kentucky.

A half hour later as Young finished his postgame interviews and retreated to the locker room, he was asked why it was so important for him to thank the fans – specifically the students who have so passionately embraced Florida’s four seniors – after his final home game.

“I really, truly believe we have the best fans in the country,’’ Young said. “They camped out for us last night. It was unbelievable just seeing how dedicated those guys are and how they wanted to be a part of this and be a part of history.

“That means a lot to me, means a lot to my teammates. To have that every single night at the O’Dome is something I’m never going to forget.”

The lovefest between Florida’s four seniors – Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete – and the student section has been a season-long affair heightened by social media, Florida’s ascension to No. 1 in the national polls and a surge in national media coverage of late, including a spread in Sports Illustrated this week.

When Prather walked from his dorm to the O’Connell Center for Saturday’s pregame, he was stunned by the scene. The line outside Gate 3 where students line up prior to games stretched all the way to the sidewalk and up Stadium Road toward Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Rowdy Reptiles

“The fans were screaming real loud and I just enjoyed every bit of it,’’ Prather said. “I love our fans to death. It’s kind of sad I can’t play in front of them any more.”

The Reptiles have packed the O’Connell Center all season, including more than 4,000 twice this season during mid-week games. For games that are sold-out well in advance like Saturday’s regular-season finale which drew an announced crowd of 12,604, students vie for the 2,000 spots in the Rowdy Reptile section.

They were in extremely high demand like tickets sold to the general public Saturday.

Yeguete, whom like Young, has spent plenty of time as a fan at UF sporting events the past four years supporting other teams on campus – the two roommates showed up at UF’s baseball game the day after beating Kentucky on the road last month – considered Saturday’s atmosphere as electric as he has seen.

“They spent the night outside and they were into it today at the game,’’ Yeguete said. “They really, really helped us. I think people should know that. They did a really good job the whole year of coming in to support us, just help us go 18-0. We’re thankful for them.”

As if they wrote the script on Senior Day, it was only fitting that Florida’s four seniors chipped in down the stretch after Kentucky trimmed a 22-point first-half deficit to six in the second half. Young scored 18 points, Yeguete finished with five and Prather had 15.

Wilbekin hit the biggest shot, a 3-pointer to snap a 15-0 Kentucky run that trimmed Florida’s lead to 53-47. Wilbekin’s 3-ball with 11:54 left woke up a deflated O’Dome. When Prather converted a 3-point play with a layup and free throw that put Florida up 70-57 with 5:24 left, the roof nearly lifted off the place.

The Rowdy Reptiles and the rest of those stuffed into the O’Dome sensed 18-0 as a reality.

Wilbekin perhaps said it best when asked what it meant for the seniors to close their home careers with a historic win.

“It means everything. I couldn’t ask for it to end any other way,’’ Wilbekin said. “When I was sleeping last night, this was how I imagined it happening. It’s sad it’s my last game here, but I’m so happy right now. This was the perfect way for us to go out at home.”

The four Florida seniors capped their home careers with a 59-5 record. The Gators extended their school-record home win streak to 32 games Saturday and finished 17-0 at home after going 15-0 at the O’Connell Center last season.

It’s the first time in the modern era the Gators have gone undefeated at home in back-to-back seasons (UF won all five of its home games over a two-season span in 1922 and ‘23).

Before the game, those Rowdy Reptiles lined up outside Gate 3 took turns filming messages to Florida’s four seniors.

One fan decked in a Gators jersey and wearing the faux mohawk given out at a game to honor Yeguete last season, and the orange beard that honored Young earlier this season, shared the view of thousands of Florida fans.

“We appreciate you guys sticking around and putting in the hard work. We love you guys,’’ he said.

The last thing the four seniors did before walking off the court together for the final time was kneel down and plant a kiss on the Gator logo at midcourt.

The Rowdy Reptiles cheered.

Even Gators coach Billy Donovan admitted this team has a special bond with the fans that not many teams develop.

"Listen, our fans, since I've been here [for] 18 years, that was one of the greatest sendoffs I have ever seen for a senior class since,’’ Donovan said. “Our fans deserve a lot of credit for that, and I'm thankful and I'm appreciative.”

“Perfect,’’ Prather called the day.

 

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