LEXINGTON, Ky. — Florida wanted more than a moral victory.
It didn't get it.
With their NCAA Tournament hopes slipping away, the Gators erased most of a big early deficit against No. 3 Kentucky before falling 74-66 Sunday.
Now, Florida (20-11, 9-7 SEC) may need to win two or more games in this week's conference tournament in Nashville to reach the NCAAs.
"There is no moral victory for us," UF forward Chandler Parsons said. "A loss is a loss. They are the third-best team in the country, and we feel that we can play with anybody on their homecourt and their hostile environment."
The Gators finished the regular season with three straight losses. Still, Kentucky coach John Calipari said he thinks they belong in the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm rooting for them," Calipari said. "They played hard, never quit. They went right at us."
The Wildcats (29-2, 14-2), who had already clinched their 44th SEC title, finished 18-0 at home, tying the 1985-86 team for the best in program history. They last reached 14 league wins in 2005.
It wasn't easy despite a fast start that had Kentucky up by as much as 18 in the first half.
Florida got a slew of uncontested baskets and cut it to 57-54 midway through the second after a 3-pointer by Alex Tyus, who led the Gators with 12 points.
Vernon Macklin's layup made it 60-58 with seven minutes left. Patrick Patterson answered with a dunk and John Wall followed with a 3 to give the Wildcats some breathing room.
"I think in the first half we certainly dug ourselves a hole," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
Darius Miller got most of his 14 points in the clutch for Kentucky. He made 5 of 7 baskets, including three 3-pointers, one that stopped a 9-1 Florida run.
Afterward, Miller warned that these close calls have got to stop with the postseason about to begin.
"That's happened to us a few times this year," Miller said. "We really need to take care of that. It might not work against some other team."
Kentucky never trailed and began to pad the lead midway through the first half when Miller passed up an open 3-pointer to dish it to Eric Bledsoe, who sank the long jumper instead. On the next trip down, Miller hit a 3, putting the Wildcats up 16-9.
Kenny Boynton answered for Florida by hitting a 3-pointer in transition.
After Tyus hit a fadeaway jumper to cut the Kentucky lead to 20-16 midway through the half, the Gators didn't get a field goal for more than five minutes while the Wildcats went on a 14-0 run.
Miller had five points in that stretch and Darnell Dodson added one of his two 3-pointers. Bledsoe punctuated the run with the showstopping play of the afternoon: a reverse layup that he finished with his back to the basket while plummeting out of bounds. That gave the Wildcats their largest early lead at 34-18.
Florida cut the deficit to 41-31 at halftime.
Calipari typically starts three freshmen and one sophomore, but the team's lone seniors, Mark Krebs, Perry Stevenson and Ramon Harris, started and played the first five minutes. Also honored on Senior Day was usual starter Patrick Patterson, a junior who is expected to graduate in three years and likely will enter the NBA draft.
"I was just trying to hold back the tears," Patterson said. "I just kept looking at the fans, trying to soak it all in."
Wall, a freshman and a near-lock for the draft, joined those four in the starting lineup and had 11 points.