Florida coach Billy Donovan knew the task would be difficult in Lexington. The Gators played well against the Wildcats in the first meeting, but it would take a near perfect effort to pull off the win at Rupp Arena.
Florida (15-16, 8-10 SEC) did enough to hang in the game early, but the depth and size of Kentucky was too much for the Gators to overcome, as the Wildcats (31-0, 18-0 SEC) pulled off a 67-50 win on senior day to complete their perfect regular season.
“It was going to take a consistent effort,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said on the postgame radio show. “When we played consistently for 30 minutes, we were right there giving ourselves a chance. We had some empty possessions where we didn’t space very well. It’s what has happened all year. We play good basketball for 30 minutes and then just don’t get it done.”
Kentucky stormed out to a 5-0 lead at the beginning of the game and held Florida scoreless for the first 3:02 of play. The Wildcats’ defense at the rim gave the Gators problems early, but Florida bounced back to tie the game at seven while Dorian Finney-Smith, starting for the first time since being cleared from his suspension for violating team rules, scored five of the team’s first seven points.
After Kentucky’s 5-0 run to open the game, the teams exchanged blows and the score was within four points until Kentucky forward Trey Lyles dunked with 17 seconds left, but Florida point guard Kasey Hill hit layup with three seconds left in the half to cut Kentucky’s lead to 30-27 at halftime.
“We battled and competed,” Donovan said. “We got off to a slow start but knocked down shots. We hung around, made a couple shots and with 10 minutes to go, you’re right there. To be in the game that close, you have to be some good things. We did a lot of good things, but the last 10 minutes, you can point to their drives and fouls.”
Florida was able to hang in the game despite Kentucky’s hot start in the second half thanks to the three-point line. Finney-Smith and Eli Carter both hit treys in the first 4:02 of the second half, cutting the Gators’ deficit to one point.
After a Chris Walker jumper cut the Kentucky lead to three points with 12:18 remaining, the Wildcats went on a 9-2 run that basically put the game away. Kentucky ran away with the game before closing out the 17-point victory.
Florida was able to get Michael Frazier (high ankle sprain) back for the first time since February 7, and he was able to play 18 minutes and hit one three-pointer.
“I wanted to put him out there,” Donovan said. “It’s been a long month and he wants to play. I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t think it’s a fair game to evaluate Michael. I just wanted to give him some playing time.
The Gators will open the SEC Tournament against Alabama on Thursday at 1 p.m. Heading into it, Donovan has seen his team improve over the last two weeks. Before that, he wasn’t so sure he could say the same thing.
“I think our team has gotten better,” Donovan said. “This is a game against the best team in the country. I think the last two weeks, we’ve gotten better and improved in some areas.”