CRAWFORD | Florida halts Kentucky's momentum with 80-67 win to close regular season
Kentucky had its four-game losing streak snapped in a double-digit loss at Florida, but the Wildcats hope their late-season momentum is only temporarily halted with the SEC Tournament coming next week.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – If, two weeks ago with his team in the midst of a four-game losing streak, you had told Kentucky coach John Calipari that his Wildcats would win four of their next five games, he’d probably have shaken your hand and taken the deal.
Florida threw a bucket of water on Kentucky’s recent resurgence Saturday, beating the Wildcats 80-67 in the season finale for both teams. The Gators led by as many as 23 points in the second half and though Kentucky threatened to make a game of it, cutting its deficit to nine with 6:48 left, the Wildcats couldn’t get all the way back.
Calipari said afterward that Florida “deserved to win. They really did.”
“There was a lot of stuff,” Calipari said. “First of all, we put ourselves in a deep hole today. And second of all we didn’t pass. I don’t have any idea why we didn’t pass the ball to each other. If you have two guys on you . . . somebody is open. That means throw it to somebody. We reverted. This is how we played a month ago.”
In the locker room at halftime, with his team trailing by 15, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said Calipari told his players as much. Their passing was non-existent.
“Six assists, 13 turnovers?” Calipari said as he looked at a stat sheet after the game. “You’re not going to win if you do that.”
But more even than that, it was Kentucky’s defense that deserted it in the first half, when Florida scored 48 points, a season-high for a Kentucky opponent. Once Kentucky went zone in the second half and got itself organized defensively, it held Florida without a field goal for nearly 7 ½ minutes, an 0-for-10 stretch in which the Wildcats climbed back into the game.
“I felt like we felt back a little bit,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We fought back, but we had a couple of defensive lapses after that, and we couldn’t get back.”
Kentucky came into Gainesville a confident team, and left a bit surprised that they could suffer that kind of double-digit loss.
“It did surprise me a little bit,” P.J. Washington said. “But it’s just a learning experience that we’ll watch film and get better and be better for the next game. . . . We had a game plan defensively that we didn’t really follow in the first half, and they were torching us with threes. We just need to be more disciplined on defense and do what the coaches are asking us and we’ll be good.”
If Calipari wasn’t more concerned with a double-digit loss in his team’s final regular-season game, it’s because by now he knows, with a team as young as his, nothing stands still for very long. You never turn a corner. You might think you have, only to see a game like the Wildcats played Sunday. There’s an upside to that, however. A game like the Wildcats played Sunday doesn’t necessarily mean that the team has regressed all the way back.
Calipari said his guards weren’t particularly good, even though Gilgeous-Alexander finished with a team-best 17 points and four assists.
“If he doesn’t play well, it is tough on the rest of these guys, because they’re counting on him to make the right plays,” Calipari said. “But he’s had an unbelievable season.”
Kentucky got 14 points from Kevin Knox and 11 each from Quade Green and Washington. The Wildcats outrebounded Florida 36-34 but allowed 10-of-24 shooting from three-point range.
Florida was led by Jalen Hudson, who finished with 22 points.
“This is a young team, last regular season game, now the real stuff starts,” Calipari said. “. . . You just don’t know with young kids. They’ll revert, in a minute. They’ll revert.”
They can also improve in a minute, as well. That’s what Kentucky will work toward as they enter next week’s SEC Tournament in St. Louis.
Copyright 2018 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.