GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Riley Kugel scored 22 points, Walter Clayton Jr. added 20 and Florida upset No. 12 Auburn 81-65 on Saturday to put itself in position to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years.
The Gators (16-7, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) extended their home-winning streak against the slightly favored Tigers to 15 and picked up their second Quad 1 victory in two weeks. This one came in surprising fashion.
Florida dominated Auburn (19-5, 8-3) from the opening tip and — for a change — never let up. Coach Todd Golden’s team had lost three games this season (Wake Forest, Texas A&M and Kentucky) after leading at halftime and squandered huge leads before eking out wins against Georgia and Mississippi State late last month.
But Florida turned in its most complete game of the season, leading Auburn by as many as 29 in the second half, and may have done enough to lift itself off the proverbial NCAA bubble for good.
Zyon Pullin chipped in 19 points for the Gators, who shot 40% from the field and made 7 of 21 from 3-point range.
Florida scored the first nine points of the game and opened a 17-point lead midway through the first half thanks mostly to guard play. Clayton, Kugel and Pullin proved to be a handful for Auburn’s backcourt.
And the Tigers’ perceived advantage in the paint with Johni Broome never materialized. Broome, who leads Auburn in scoring with 16 points a game, finished with 12 points and seven boards. He had just five points with 10 to play and missed seven of eight free throws.
K.D. Johnson also scored 12 points for the Tigers. Auburn, which last won in Gainesville in 1996, missed 14 of 17 shots from behind the arc.
Auburn could fall some in the next AP college basketball poll, but the Tigers also enjoyed an impressive home victory against rival and 16th-ranked Alabama earlier in the week.
Auburn: The Tigers looked poised to end a decades-long skid in Gainesville, but the O’Dome has been the program’s house of horrors since 1996. A road loss in league play, though, does little to impact Auburn’s chances of winning the SEC and potentially getting a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Florida: The Gators needed another Quad 1 win to bolster their NCAA resume. They won at Kentucky to end January and added another solid victory against the Tigers to give them a little more margin for error down the stretch.
Former Florida star and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Anthony Richardson got a standing ovation while being introduced in the first half. Richardson, a Gainesville native, sat courtside with a friend and was shown on camera dancing the team’s mascot, Alberta.
Auburn hosts South Carolina on Wednesday.
Florida hosts LSU on Tuesday.
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