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Florida can’t keep up at Kentucky

The Gators fall behind early, get it close at halftime, then find out why the No. 5 Wildcats are a national-title contender.
Kentucky's Sahvir Wheeler tries to shoot over Florida's Colin Castleton during the first half Saturday.
Kentucky's Sahvir Wheeler tries to shoot over Florida's Colin Castleton during the first half Saturday. [ JAMES CRISP | AP ]
Published Feb. 12, 2022|Updated Feb. 13, 2022

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Oscar Tshiebwe seemingly hasn’t been distracted by his candidacy for Player of the Year honors, considering the Kentucky standout continues to go about his business on the court.

Tshiebwe scored 27 points and had 19 rebounds to lead No. 5 Kentucky to a 78-57 win over Florida on Saturday.

“He’s been a beast,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said, “... this is high-level basketball here. This isn’t eighth grade.”

Tshiebwe stood out above the Gators and collected a nation-leading 18th double double of the season and his 11th in a row. The Wildcats (21-4, 10-2 SEC) have won six straight.

On Friday, Tshiebwe promised a young fan that he would attempt to grab 20 rebounds, which he said provided extra inspiration.

“That’s why I came in today with a different mindset to rebound for her,” he said. “I think she’ll be more than happy for 19 rebounds.”

TyTy Washington had 10 points for Kentucky, including eight in the second half, before leaving the game with 12:51 remaining due to a lower left-leg injury. He didn’t return. Calipari said an X-ray was negative, adding the freshman guard is “day to day.”

“He still might be out a week or two,” Calipari said. “It could be a muscle. It could be something that separated.”

Kellan Grady had 15 points and Davion Mintz 11 for the Wildcats.

The Gators (16-9, 6-6) saw their four-game winning streak snapped. Center Colin Castleton had 18 points, the only Florida player who scored in double figures. Myreon Jones, who made seven 3-pointers in a home win over Georgia on Tuesday, finished with just six points.

Kentucky made its first four field goals, including back-to-back 3s by Grady, and used a 14-2 run to produce a 20-6 lead. Grady scored all nine of his first-half points during the spurt, which included 12 unanswered points by the Wildcats.

Despite the sluggish start, the Gators used a 15-2 run of their own to narrow the margin to 22-21 with six minutes left in the first half. UK regrouped and responded with six straight points — all by Tshiebwe — and led 33-28 at halftime.

The Wildcats put the game away by scoring 13 of the first 15 points to open the second half.

“This is a tough place to play, and there was a lot of energy,” Florida coach Mike White said. “When the second half starts the same way, it can be disheartening. We have to be tougher mentally. ... We’ve got to be better than that and then go on to the next play.”

SHORTHANDED

Kentucky was without forward Jacob Toppin, who suffered a sprained ankle in the first half of a win at South Carolina on Tuesday. The Wildcats have played just 12 games this season with a full roster. One of their key players off the bench, Toppin is averaging six points and four rebounds per game.

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BIG PICTURE

Florida: The Gators fell 5-15 against teams ranked in the top 10. Seeking much-needed momentum going into the postseason, Florida’s next three games are against Texas A&M, No. 1 Auburn and surging Arkansas.

Kentucky: The Wildcats continue to build their case for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament and could make a jump in the Top 25 following losses by No. 1 Auburn and third-ranked Purdue this week. The schedule doesn’t get easier for Kentucky, which closes out February at Tennessee, followed by home games against Alabama and LSU and a road game at Arkansas. ... The Wildcats were outrebounded in their previous three games, but they held a 41-25 edge over the Gators.

UP NEXT

Florida: At Texas A&M on Tuesday.

Kentucky: At No. 19 Tennessee on Tuesday.

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By KEITH TAYLOR

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