No. 7 Florida retains sole possession of first place in SEC with 69-52 win over No. 25 Kentucky
GAINESVILLE – In one evening of balanced scoring and intensely physical play, No. 7 Florida managed to extend one winning streak and snapped a losing one.
The Gators defeated No. 25 Kentucky 69-52 in front of a sold-out crowd at the O’Connell Center Tuesday night, ending a five-game losing streak to the Wildcats and retaining sole possession of first place in the SEC with a two-game lead. The 17-point victory was the largest against Kentucky this season. The Gators also extended their home winning streak this season to 12.
Florida had five players in double figures, scored 20 points off 17 UK turnovers and shot 49 percent from the field.
“It feels good to get a win against Kentucky because my whole career I’ve got a losing record against them so it’s nice,” said junior center Patric Young, who had 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. . “It’s huge for us because it means we didn’t let the Arkansas loss (one week ago) become two losses. We didn’t play great against Mississippi State, but we won, and then tonight we came out and got back to playing the way we had been earlier in the season.”
Florida (20-3, 10-1 SEC) countered a size disadvantage with aggressive drives to the basket (outscoring UK 36-26 in the paint); holding the league’s top shot-blocking team to three (UF had nine) and shooting 42.9 percent from 3-point range. It three 3-pointers during a 1:17 span late in the first half that opened up the game and led to a 38-25 halftime lead for Florida. It was Florida’s guard play that helped ease the battle in the middle for the Gators. Scottie Wilbekin, Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton combined for 35 points and 12 assists.
“We just tried to scrap and every time the ball was in the air we tried to get it,’’ said Wilbekin who had a team-high 14 points and eight assists. “I think our defense was much better. We’re trying to get back to what we were doing at the beginning of the year.”
Kentucky pulled within 12 with 9:36 remaining, but couldn't get any closer.
"We played soft, scared, guys played uptight," Kentucky guard Julius Mays said.
The game took a solemn turn with 8:03 remaining. Following a Kentucky turnover, Florida senior guard Mike Rosario was on a fast-break as Kentucky star freshman center Nerlens Noel chased him. As Noel went up for a block, he came down and his left foot collided with the bottom of the base of the basket, injuring his left knee. He was eventually carried off the floor by teammates.
“All of us as a team got together and prayed for him, and then we sent him to the hospital,'' Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "I didn't see much, I just saw it looked ugly. He was yelling and screaming so that's why I stayed (with him on the floor after the injury). We just hope and pray that he's okay, but we'll see. I'm physically sick right now for him.”
Florida earned its 15th consecutive 20-win season under coach Billy Donovan. Only Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim have longer active streaks of 20-win seasons under the same coach.
“The hardest thing to do at a place like this is try to maintain a level of consistency, and that’s what you try to do,’’ Donovan said. “And to be able to do that for whatever many years it is, I would say it’s a reflection on the school, the administration and also the players.”