GAINESVILLE — Two weeks ago, Florida and Kentucky were among the top teams in the SEC, but suddenly things have changed. No. 1 Kentucky's quest for SEC perfection came to a successful conclusion Sunday, while No. 16 Florida's struggles continued.
Kentucky (30-1, 16-0 SEC) took an early lead, withstood a couple of runs, then pulled away for a 74-59 victory in the sold-out O'Connell Center. The Wildcats have won 22 straight games and finished undefeated in league play for the first time since their 2003 team. The 1966 Kentucky team is the only other in league history to finish with a perfect SEC record in the past 56 years.
Florida (22-9, 10-6), now 0-9 against Kentucky when the Wildcats are No. 1, has lost five of its past eight games.
"I told them prior to the game, look, the bottom line is if we lose we're still the No. 1 seed, it doesn't change our seeding, it doesn't do anything," UK coach John Calipari said. "But it's about pride. And I know you guys want to win. And we play to win. We're not playing not to lose, we play to win. … So, that was the message prior to the game. Go have fun and play. And I thought at the start of the game we were really good."
Kentucky shot nearly 55 percent from the field in the first half and led by as many as 16 before Florida pulled to within eight at halftime. Sophomore center Patric Young (21 points, nine rebounds) dunked with 16:31 remaining in the game to pull Florida within 46-44, capping a 22-8 run.
But Kentucky responded to every run. Trailing 59-55 with 9:05 remaining, the Gators scored four the rest of the game.
"I thought we had some really good, decent looks during that stretch, but the ball just didn't go in," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "And like they've done all year long, and with their talent level, when you don't finish a possession out, but you don't guard a possession, then you really put yourself in a position where you're vulnerable and they score. And then I thought (Anthony) Davis made some unbelievable plays. And (Terrence) Jones didn't play well against us in Lexington. He was great" Sunday.
Jones scored Kentucky's first eight and finished with 19 points and four rebounds. Davis had a game-high 22 points and 12 rebounds. The Gators shot 38 percent from the field in the game and 18.2 percent from 3-point range in the second half (27 percent — 6-of-22 — for the game).
"We were right there in the game and we had some open looks," said Florida senior Erving Walker, who had eight points and five assists in his final home game. "If we had hit those, that could have changed some things."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.