GAINESVILLE — In one evening of balanced scoring and intensely physical play, No. 7 Florida managed to extend one winning streak and snap a losing one.
The Gators defeated No. 25 Kentucky 69-52 in front of a sold-out crowd at the O'Connell Center on 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 off 17 Wildcats 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.
Florida (20-3, 10-1) 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. The Gators hit 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. 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 fastbreak as Kentucky star freshman center Nerlens Noel chased him. As Noel went up for a block, he came down and his left foot hit the bottom of the base of the basket, injuring his left knee. He was carried off the floor by teammates.
Noel, the nation's leading shot-blocker, was taken to a campus hospital for tests. The team said it won't know anything more until it gets back to Lexington.
"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."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]