Florida (21-10, 8-8 SEC) entered Sunday's game with seven straight wins against the Wildcats (18-11, 12-4 SEC) and were looking to become the first team ever to beat Kentucky in eight straight meetings. But some creative shooting by the second place ‘Cats and some all to often shooting woes from the Gators sent Florida home to Gainesville with their third straight loss.
Florida started shooting the ball well from the field making their first seven shots. Five different Gators scored Florida's first 14 points, and with 13:35 left in the first half, the Gators opened up a nine point lead, 18-9.
The Wildcats responded with a 12-3 run to tie the score at 21, and at the 8:11 mark, a three-point play by Perry Stevenson put UK up 24-23. Stevenson finished with 18 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
The Gators would retake the lead behind a 3-point basket by Jai Lucas, but headed to the locker room trailing by two points, 33-31.
Florida scored the first four points of the second half to take the lead back. Marreese Speights knocked down a pair of free throws and threw down a dunk. He led the Gators with 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds. But Florida's early second half lead would be short lived, and it would be their last lead of the game.
The Gators missed their next eight shots; meanwhile, Kentucky was taking and making every look they got. The ‘Cats shot 60.9 percent in the second half and knocked down 58.3 percent of their long-range baskets. At the 8:49 mark of the second half, Derrick Jasper's 3-pointer stretched Kentucky's lead to 16 points, 60-44.
Just like Wednesday against Tennessee, the Gators turned up their defensive pressure and mounted a comeback. Florida trailed by 11 with three minutes remaining, but a three-point play by Lucas, a dunk by Speights and a couple of free throws from Nick Calathes allowed the Gators to cut UK's lead to just three points, 73-70, with 23 seconds left.
The Gators tried to get a steal, but instead allowed Kentucky to run 14 seconds off the clock before Florida fouled. Despite Kentucky missing several free throws down the stretch, Stevenson knocked down a pair making it a two possession game with less than 10 seconds to play.
An errant 3 by Calathes as time expired sealed the win for Kentucky.
Florida now looks to the SEC Tournament in Atlanta to make one last case for the NCAA Tournament committee. Florida faces Alabama at 7:30 p.m. in the opening round on Thursday night in Atlanta. The last defending national champion to miss the NCAA Tournament the following year was the Kansas Jayhawks in 1988. Florida is also looking to continue its stretch of nine straight NCAA appearances.
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski
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