LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Kentucky’s drive to .500 and burying memories of the first six weeks of the season stalled Saturday afternoon against Florida in Rupp Arena.
The Gators turned the Wildcats over 15 times and made four free throws in the final 23.7 seconds to beat Kentucky, 71-67.
"I don't know what it was," UK coach John Calipari said. "We were not connected today like we've been. ... We looked out of whack. No hard cuts."
The loss ended UK’s three-game winning streak and left the Wildcats 8-14 overall and 7-8 in the Southeastern Conference.
Tre Mann scored 21 points, including the final two free throws to carry the Gators, while Davion Mintz led UK with 21.
The Wildcats led by as many as 10 points in the first half. But the game was a ferocious back-and-forth battle for nearly every dribble of 40 minutes that saw nine ties and 14 lead changes.
After Jacob Toppin put Kentucky ahead with a rebound basket, Tyree Appleby gave Florida a 65-63 lead with a 3-pointer with about 3½ minutes to play. Kentucky missed 5 of its last 6 field goal attempts and never regained the lead.
"It's a loss," Toppin said. "We're just going to take it on the chin and move forward. We couldn't figure out how to penetrate their defense. That's what affected us."
Calipari said Kentucky had two primary problems: The Wildcats failed to attack Florida's full-court zone press in the middle of the court and they tried to beat the Gators' 2-3 zone defense with dribbling, not passing.
"When they spread the court, we should have been playing faster," Calipari said. "They got us out of sync."
The Wildcats also struggled because point guard Devin Askew (1 point), forward Keion Brooks (4 points) and center Olivier Sarr (6 points) made only 3 of 14 shots.
"We had a couple of guys just not show up," Calipari said. "We weren't the same team today."
The Wildcats will play two more games prior to the SEC Tournament — a trip to Ole Miss on Tuesday and a home game with South Carolina next Saturday.
Kentucky has yet to play either the Rebels or the Gamecocks. The SEC Tournament will open March 10 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Wildcats will likely have to win four games there to earn the SEC's automatic qualifier bid to the NCAA Tournament.
"We've got a lot to prove and a lot to learn," Sarr said. "We have to learn how to finish the last 4 minutes and how to close games."
Calipari said he had talked with at least two programs about adding a game last Thursday, but the game was not added to the schedule. He said he did not expect to add another game to the schedule.
"We're going to have a tough go of it with what we have," Calipari said.
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