Gators take a step back with Kentucky loss

Behind the outstanding play of freshman guard Jamal Murray, the Kentucky Wildcats (17-6, 7-3 SEC) controlled Saturday evening’s contest with Florida (15-8, 6-4 SEC) from the start, in a resounding 80-61 win.

Kentucky got off to a quick 24-5 lead just six and a half minutes into the contest behind hot shooting from Murray (35 points) and terrific guard play from junior guard Tyler Ulis (18 points, 11 assists).

“They were incredible,” Florida head coach Mike White said in his post-game interview on the Gators’ IMG Network. “We didn’t provide any resistance early on. It was a poor defensive performance for us and didn’t give ourselves a chance. We did a terrible job on Jamal Murray. He made us pay every time we made a mistake, every time we got out of our stance, every time we died on a screen, every time we were supposed to switch a certain action and didn’t… he was incredible. He was 8-10 from three, 13-21(overall), Jamal Murray just abused us.

With a little over five minutes left in the first half, Kentucky built their biggest lead (24 points, of the first stanza. The Gators were able to cut it to 18 on a last second short running jumper from freshman KeVaughn Allen who finished with just three points and three assists in 27 minutes of play.

Kentucky started the second half in much the same way as the first. They quickly built their biggest lead of the game at 26 with just 1:43 seconds gone in the second period.  The Gators did manage to cut that lead all the way down to 13 with two minutes left in the game, but couldn’t muster much and finished with the final 19 point deficit.

Florida was beaten in just about every facet of the game. The Wildcats shot 51.7 % for the game using the three point arc and several drives into the paint from their guards to score in all sort of different ways. It was certainly one of the poorest defensive performances of the year for Florida who prides themselves on that side of the ball. Behind Murray’s 8-10, Kentucky shot 12-20 for a whopping 60%.

The Gators were out-rebounded 37-28 and that was just a microcosm of what White thought was a day when his team didn’t play as hard as the competition.

“We have to make tougher plays,” he said. “Some of the offensive rebounds in the first half, transition opportunities, missed block outs, 50/50 balls, it just seemed like they won every one of those categories and you can’t do that in the SEC,” he said.

White thought they prepared to play in this tough environment with talks to the team all week, but says the lack of toughness is inexcusable.

“Did we look as confident and poised as we have lately at home?” he asked. “Absolutely not… but we’ve played on the road. I know this is a significant home court advantage, I know that. We talked ad nauseam over the last 72 hours about overcoming adversity and what was going to come and that there were a lot of people and would be loud. It’s just no excuse. We have to be mentally tougher than that.”

He wasn’t disappointed all that much on the offensive side of things. The Gators only shot 39.6% from the field and 31.6% from the three-point line, but he gives credit to the tough defense Kentucky displayed in the game, something he wish his team had matched.

“In our guys’ defense, some of the ill-advised shots were because of Kentucky’s defense,” White said. “I thought they showed up and played with urgency and ultra-competitiveness and did what they had to do to protect their side of the court. They set a tone that it was going to be a long night for us and it certainly was.”

Only two Gators scored in double digits, senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith (24) and sophomore center John Egbunu (12). White said Finney-Smith keeps playing at an elite level and wished he had more do the same.

“Dorian was very good,” Florida’s coach said. “I thought he was the lone bright spot for us in terms of personnel. I give DeVon Walker an ‘A’ for effort in his seven minutes. I thought he gave us some stops defensively. In terms of guys that logged more minutes than that, Dorian was the one guy… he was the one guy offensively and defensively what he has been lately. And that’s what you have to have.”

The Gators host Ole Miss on Saturday in a rematch of a game they won 80-71 about three weeks earlier. Florida is two games behind league leading LSU (10-2) who they beat last month and tied for j5th in the SEC with Georgia, who they also have beaten. Following the game with Ole Miss, the Gators will host Alabama (13-9, 4-6).

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