Second Ranked 'Cats Sink the Gators

A fired-up Florida Gator basketball team fought back from a 15-point, second-half deficit to tie undefeated Kentucky 72-72 with five minutes left to play, but it all went downhill from there as the second-ranked Wildcats closed the game on a 17-5 run to remain one of only two unbeaten teams in the nation while ending a five-game losing streak to UF on its home floor with an 89-77 decision.

Sophomore point guard Erving Walker led Florida with 20 points, hitting 4-of-9 3-pointers, junior forward Alex Tyus had 17 points, including his first two 3s of the season, to go with a team-high seven rebounds, and freshman shooting guard Kenny Boynton added 12 points, but it wasn't enough as UF slipped to 11-5 overall and 0-2 in SEC play, marking the first time in head coach Billy Donovan's tenure the Gators have started out their SEC slate with back-to-back losses.

"I thought our guys gave a great effort," Donovan said. "I thought our guys battled and fought as well as we could. I thought certainly their team speed and their size is really impressive."

A season-high, sellout crowd of 12,618 saw one heck of a game. Kentucky (17-0, 2-0) led 38-31 at the half, and the two teams then traded hoops over the first four minutes after the break. But with UK up 48-40, Bledsoe, who was a sizzling 10-of-13 from the field including 3-of-4 from 3-point range and had a game-high 25 points, drained a trey to boost the lead to 11, and Cousins, who had been pretty well held in check, exploded for six straight points while all UF could muster was a pair of Tyus free throws. The result was a 57-42 Wildcat lead with 14:11 left to play.

The Gators, however, refused to fold, and Walker came down the floor and drained a 3-pointer from the right wing to cut the lead to 12. A layup by Patterson made it 59-45, but Walker drained another trey, this one from the left wing, then, following a Kentucky miss, took the ball hard to the glass and drew a third personal foul on Wall. With the crowd now back into it, Walker knocked down both free throws to cut the lead to single digits, 59-50, with 12:58 remaining.

UF continued to chip away, but Kentucky would not balk and built the lead back to 10, 68-58, on a trey by Darius Miller with 9:40 left. Once again, it was Walker to the rescue, as he knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 68-64, and junior center Vernon Macklin, who was again hampered with foul trouble, got free following a steal for a layup that brought UF within two and the crowd to its feet.

Florida eventually tied it when Macklin scored off an offensive rebound with 5:14 to play. But the talented Wildcats would outscore 8-1 over the next 1:14 – a spurt Donovan pointed to as the difference in the game – to go up 80-73 with four minutes left, and a gassed UF just could not get any closer. The killer stretch began with Patterson making a basket while drawing a fourth foul on Macklin, He missed the free throw, but Kentucky was able to corral the rebound and get the ball to Darnell Dodson who drained a 3-pointer for a 77-72 UK lead.

Chandler Parsons was fouled going to the hoop, but only made one of two free throws, and Kentucky's Bledsoe then swished another 3, and it was lights out for Florida from there. "Erving really made some big threes that brought us back," Donovan said. "But we didn't do a great job on Patterson and let him get in too deep, then we foul him. He missed the free throw, but we don't box out and they get the rebound and make a three. It was almost like a five-point play for them. We made one free throw and they come down and make another three, and all of a sudden the lead is seven."

Kentucky shot 51.4 percent from the field and was 7-of-18 (38.9 percent) from 3-point range. The 'Cats also won the rebounding battle, 42-38, with 6-10 Daniel Orton leading all players with nine boards.

UF, meanwhile, shot just 38.2 percent, including an 8-for-27 effort (29.6 percent) from beyond the arc.

Florida started out well, scoring the game's first seven points and holding the potent Wildcats scoreless until Bledsoe made a layup with 15:52 to play in the opening half. Kentucky finally gained control midway through the half, however, and led by as many as nine points before settling for a seven-point halftime advantage. The Gators will try and get their first SEC win of the year Saturday night when they entertain defending SEC champ LSU in the O'Dome. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m.


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