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Florida Gators upset No. 23 Kentucky, Tampa’s Kevin Knox scores 14

By Matt Baker | Times Staff
Published: March 3, 2018 Updated: March 3, 2018 at 04:14 PM
MONICA HERNDON | TimesKentucky Wildcats forward Kevin Knox (5) looks towards the basket during the first half of the game against the Florida Gators on March 3, 2018 at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, Fla.

GAINESVILLE – After an up-and-down, injury-riddled season where the only constant theme has been inconsistency, Florida will enter the first full week of March peaking.

"We're playing our best basketball of the year," coach Mike White said.

It's hard to argue with him after his Gators blew out No. 23 Kentucky 80-67 Saturday, but the evidence expands beyond an impressive senior day performance at the O'Connell Center.

UF (20-11, 11-7 SEC) rebounded from a three-game losing streak with three consecutive wins. First the Gators topped No. 14 Auburn. Then they destroyed Alabama by 21 and upset a Kentucky team (21-10, 10-8) that had ripped off four double-digit victories in a row.

"They spanked ('Bama)," Kentucky coach John Calipari said, "and they spanked us today."

They also spoiled a homecoming of sorts for Kentucky freshman forward Kevin Knox.

The Tampa Catholic alumnus finished with 14 points (on 4-of-11 shooting) and four rebounds in what will almost certainly be his only trip here. The next time Knox plays in Florida will likely be at Orlando's Amway Center or Miami's American Airlines Arena, for whatever NBA team drafts him in the first round this June.

RELATED: NBA or bust: Kevin Knox's lifelong push for the pros

Saturday wasn't about Knox; it was about a Gators team that was floating near the NCAA Tournament bubble two weeks ago but now looks like a contender to make another deep run. For that, UF can thank guards Chris Chiozza and Jalen Hudson.

Chiozza had the game's first turning point when he dumped a pass back to Keith Stone with six minutes left in the half. Stone's 3-pointer gave Chiozza his school-record 548th career assist and jumpstarted the offense; after scoring 28 points through 14 minutes, UF scored 20 in the final six to open up a 15-point halftime lead.

Chiozza – the hero of last year's Elite Eight run with the buzzer-beater to beat Wisconsin – had nine points and three other assists on his senior day.

"Now his legacy isn't about the shot," White said. "It's about being a really good player here at Florida."

Hudson isn't a bad one, either. He led all scorers with 22 points and is averaging 18 since he was shut out in the loss to Georgia on Feb. 14.

His big moment came with seven minutes left, after UF squandered a 23-point lead by going almost eight minutes without a field goal and Knox came up with an acrobatic save that helped Kentucky cut its to nine. Moments later, Hudson tried one of his six 3-pointers.

"I think it hit every part of the rim," Hudson said.

But it eventually dropped in, and Kentucky never threatened again.

The Gators don't have any major epiphanies for how they turned their season around, secured a 19th 20-win season in 20 years and swept Kentucky for the sixth time ever. Chiozza said the team's roles are more defined. Hudson feels more freedom to shoot.

White's summary is more direct.

"Our guys made it happen," White said.

Now comes the hard part: Keep whatever it is happening for the next month.