FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (ArkansasRazorbacks.com) – On a historic night in Bud Walton Arena the University of Arkansas basketball team toppled No. 2 Florida, 80-69, on Tuesday evening in front of a frantic Razorback crowd and a national television audience. Eight Arkansas players scored at least seven points as the Razorbacks defeated the No. 2 team in the nation for the sixth time in school history and the first time in 14 years.
The Arkansas (14-8, 5-4 SEC) win is the fourth time that the Razorbacks have defeated a ranked opponent at Bud Walton Arena over the last two years, handing Florida (18-3, 8-1 SEC) its first conference loss of the season and the first loss by the Gators since late December. Sophomore BJ Young led the Razorbacks in scoring with 13 points while junior Marshawn Powell and freshman Michael Qualls each scored 11.
"This was a total team win against a great basketball team," head coach Mike Anderson said. "Our bench played outstanding. Our defense took them out of what they wanted to do. We were excellent at rebounding. We made shots and did a good job attacking and moving the ball."
The Arkansas defense was relentless as they pestered the Gators throughout the contest, forcing 16 turnovers and capitalizing on them with 21 Razorback points. Offensively, the Razorback bench contributed 50 percent of Arkansas' points (40).
The win was the first time since Feb. 24, 1999, that the Razorbacks topped the No. 2 team in the country. That evening they steamrolled Auburn, 104-88. Arkansas' 80 points were also the most scored against Florida this season, the previous high was set by Kansas State, in a 67-61 loss.
Arkansas was clicking on all cylinders starting off nearly flawless with a 9-2 run over the opening 2:23. The Razorbacks increased their lead to double-digits over the Gators as Qualls stroked a three-pointer to put Arkansas up by 11, 19-8. On the ensuing play, Powell laid down a dunk heard throughout Fayetteville (22-8), sending the crowd to its feet. The 13-point lead was the largest any team held over the second-ranked Gators this season.
"The first basket set the tone and everything else fell in line," Powell said. "We ran, we attacked and we played physical. That was our goal and we executed it. It shows what we can do, the potential we have and how hard we work every day. It feels good."
Arkansas never let up the defensive pressure and it seemed the high flying Razorbacks couldn't miss a shot. The Razorbacks grew their lead to a whopping 23 points as freshman Jacorey Williams tipped in a two-pointer to put Arkansas up 36-13. Arkansas entered the locker room with a 17-point lead, 43-26. The 43 Razorback points were the most points the Gators have given up this season in the first half.
The Razorback defense held the Gators to their lowest first-half field-goal percentage (7-of-24, .292) of the season. Arkansas on the other hand went 16-of-30 from the field in the first half. The Razorbacks also finished the first half with a season-high seven three-point field goals, in which a total of five different Razorbacks contributed a three-pointer.
Arkansas out-rebounded Florida 19-13 and finished the first with 10 assists. Arkansas forced seven Gator turnovers that led to 12 Razorback points.
The second half began no different than the first as the Razorbacks hounded the Gators, going on a 6-0 run before Florida head coach Billy Donovan signaled for a timeout. The Gators returned to the court to put up their biggest run of the evening, 7-0. Arkansas wasn't ready to let the Gators come within single-digits of their lead and answered Florida by growing their lead to a comfortable 27 points after a crowd-erupting dunk by Clarke to put Arkansas up 67-40 with 9:40 remaining in the game.
The Gators were unable to come back from their biggest deficit this season as Arkansas downed a top-5 team for the first time since Dec. 30, 2008 when the Razorbacks rolled No. 4 Oklahoma, 96-88.
"They were ready to play tonight," Anderson said. "Playing against a team like Florida they really wanted to play well. Now we want to continue to build on this. This isn't the beginning. This is a continuation of what we've been doing. Tonight was our night."
The Razorbacks look to continue their momentum during a two-game road swing, as they travel to Nashville, Tenn., to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday, Feb. 9, at 12:47 p.m. on the SEC Network. Arkansas will then head to Auburn, Ala., to take on the Auburn Tigers on Wednesday, Feb. 13th.