LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — When the dribbling began Saturday it was reasonable to ask if if John Calipari’s Kentucky basketball team was on the fast track toward grabbing a Number One NCAA Tournament seed.
Michigan and Michigan State have both taken losses in the last week. Michigan State, in fact, took two, including one against an Indiana team that had lost seven straight.
Gonzaga lacks the credentials Kentucky has. The Wildcats handled North Carolina, Kansas and Louisville,
Somebody has to fill the fourth spot next to Duke, Virginia and Tennessee?
Why not Kentucky?
Dial up the volume on the argument. Why not Kentucky?
Calipari’s team hit Florida with a 34-12 lightning bolt over the final 14 minutes to defeat the Gators, 65-54.
"They were terrific defensively," Florida coach Mike White said. "We had a couple of very long dry spells, if I remember correctly, that it just felt like we couldn't score for a couple of days there."
This is what the latest computer numbers say: Ken Pomeroy ranks UK ninth, behind Virginia, Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.
Jeff Sagarin has UK trailing six of those teams, but ahead of Michigan and Virginia Tech.
At 9 a.m. Sunday the NCAA NET rankings that the Tournament Selection Committee will use had not been updated to include the results from Saturday. But the Wildcats were No. 8.
Against Florida, the UK defense was unrelenting. The offense was effective. And the final result was enough to push the Wildcats to their eighth consecutive victory.
At 18-3 overall and 7-1 in the SEC, the Wildcats remained a game behind Tennessee in the conference race. But they pulled even with LSU, which was upset by Arkansas.
They also added to their credentials for the discussion a team that has earned consideration for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Keldon Johnson made the three-point shot that pushed the Wildcats ahead 50-48. He finished with 10. Credit Tyler Herro with 19 and P.J. Washington with 15.
"We're still a work in progress," Calipari said. "We're halfway up the hill."
The defense was a group thing. Florida shot 27.3 percent in the second half, missing eight of nine shots from distance. They huffed and puffed to score a dozen points in the final 14 minutes.
"Later on in the game they started to switch (screens) a lot more," said Florida center Kevarrius Hayes. "They had ball screens and forced our guards to drive it on their bigger guys. We got a little stagnant and our shots were heavily contested."
The Wildcats had an ordinary first half, not the kind of 20 minutes a team typically needs to win on the road in the Southeastern Conference.
They bricked 11 of 14 three-point shots. They got 10 point from Tyler Herro, eight points from P.J. Washington and little to get excited about from anybody else. Their defense struggled at the three-point line, allowing the Gators to make five of 12 shots from distance.
The beginning of the second half was worse. The Wildcats got a basket from Reid Travis a minute after play resumed. By the time Kentucky scored another field goal, the Wildcats trailed 42-32.
They started the second half one for six from the field with four turnovers.
The responded with a grind. The Wildcats cut the lead to a point twice but could not overtake the Gators. They slipped behind by five and made a second push.
After that it was hammer time. A winning mixture of inside strength, three-point shooting and persistent defense.
"We just had to dig down deep, come out and get it done," Johnson said. "We knew that we didn't want to lose. We had each other's backs. We just went out there, locked down on defense and communicated."
Next for the Wildcats?
A home game Tuesday against South Carolina, which won at Georgia Saturday to improve to 6-2 in the league. Then a rematch with Ben Howland’s Mississippi State, a team Kentucky defeated by 21 points in Rupp Jan. 22.
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