In a game with eight lead changes and no team ever holding a double-digit lead, points were at a premium in the O’Connell Center on Saturday. And the Gators left plenty of points on the floor.
Florida went 7-14 from the free throw line while Kentucky went 21-22 with the only miss coming when the game was mostly in hand. The differential at the free throw line was the difference as No. 1 Kentucky slipped out of Gainesville with a 68-61 win.
“We need to make free throws down the stretch,” Florida guard Eli Carter said. “It seemed like they capitalized on it every time they got to the free throw line.”
The Gators had their two big men get in foul trouble early. Center Jon Horford picked up two fouls in the first 1:32 of play, and 21 seconds later, Chris Walker picked up his first. Walker set an illegal screen just over five minutes into the game and was whistled with his second foul, putting the Gators in a bind in the paint for the final 14:42 of the first half.
But the fouls also added up and allowed the Wildcats to get to the free throw line. Kentucky was in the bonus for the final 13:28 of the first half and the final nine minutes of the second half. Florida coach Billy Donovan has been upset with his team’s penchant for fouling opponents this year, and it was obvious against on Saturday.
“The difference was the free throw line -- that was really the difference in the game,” Donovan said.
The free throw issues were even more apparent late in the game. With the Gators trailing 55-52 and just under six minutes left, Kasey Hill missed both free throws that would’ve given the Gators momentum. With under two minutes left, Jon Horford missed two free throws that could’ve tied the game.
The problems for Horford didn’t begin at the free throw line. Before those free throws, he had an easy layup but passed it up with the fear of a Kentucky shot blocker nearby. Instead, the delay allowed Karl-Anthony Towns to get near him and force him to shoot free throws.
With 52 seconds left and Florida down four, Horford caught the ball under the basket but couldn’t corral it before being called with a travel.
“Jon Horford had some plays around the basket and couldn’t finish,” Donovan said. “It was hard for me to see what kind of angle he had on the two layups. I don’t know if he was under the rim or could’ve gone up and finished the play. The easy thing now is to say that he should’ve gone up and made them.
“Two free throws coming down the stretch (for Horford), those two layups, Kasey’s two free throws, Eli Carter some open threes, Chiozza had a three. At some point you’ve got to knock down a few shots to give yourself a chance.
FRAZIER UPDATE: Donovan said Michael Frazier was battling an ankle sprain that forced him to miss a majority of the second half. He scored 10 points in the first half and started the game in a rhythm with his shot, but the junior wasn’t healthy enough to stay on the floor.
“He tried to go back in there, he was hobbling around,” Donovan said. “When he gave up a three to one of the Harrisons, I just thought he had to come off the floor. He’s just trying to limp and hobble. He needed to sit. I appreciate him trying, but he wasn’t able to help us.”
Frazier’s status remains day-to-day. Florida doesn’t play until Thursday when it hosts Ole Miss.