Gators Come Up Short in Lexington

The Florida Gators rallied from an 18-point, first-half deficit to get within two points with 5:30 left to play but could not pull off the upset as third-ranked Kentucky escaped with a 74-66 SEC win before a Senior Day crowd of 24,354 at Rupp Arena Sunday in the regular-season finale for both squads.

The Wildcats (29-2, 14-2), who improved to 84-6 all-time on Senior Day, placed five players in double figures in tying a school record by going a perfect 18-0 at home, although the margin of victory was their lowest of the year. The win gave Kentucky a sweep of the Gators, who had won eight of the previous 11 contests, for the first time since the 2003-2004 season.

Junior forward Alex Tyus, who had not scored in double figures in the last four games, led the Gators (20-11, 9-7) with 12 points, while freshmen Erik Murphy and Kenny Boynton each added 11 points, with the mark a career-high for Murphy.

Sophomore guard Ray Shipman also had a big game off the bench, scoring nine points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field, while junior Chandler Parsons scored nine points and added six rebounds. Vernon Macklin and Erving Walker both overcame slow starts to each score eight points, with the 5-8 Walker grabbing a career-high eight rebounds to lead a 38-34 UF advantage on the boards.

But it wasn't enough as the Gators fell for the third straight game and now face what appears to be a must-win, first-round game against Auburn in the SEC Tournament Thursday to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

"I thought we played really hard," head coach Billy Donovan said in a postgame interview with WRUF radio. "We certainly dug ourselves a hole in the first half, but give our guys credit. They battled their way back and cut it to 10.

"Then we had a stretch there in the second half where they were really having a difficult time trying to guard us. We got great minutes from Erik Murphy and we got great minutes from Ray Shipman, and I thought it was a collective group effort."

Florida more than held their own after intermission. The Gators trimmed the lead to single digits in the opening two minutes of the second half and eventually got within a basket, 60-58, on a tip-in by Murphy with 6:52 remaining.

Murphy then answered a dunk by Kentucky's Patrick Patterson with one of his own to pull UF within two again, 62-60, with 5:30 left, but highly-touted freshman guard John Wall hit a 3-pointer to extend the Wildcats' lead to five. Wall's trey was Kentucky's last field of the game and just its ninth of the second half, but the Gators would not score again for almost four minutes when Macklin scored inside with 1:42 remaining to cut a 68-60 Kentucky lead to 68-62.

Florida was able to get a steal on the ensuing possession, but Boynton was whistled for an offensive foul on what was one of several key calls to go against the Gators in the closing minutes, and the Wildcats were able to ice the game from the free throw line, scoring their last nine points from the charity stripe. Kentucky connected on 20-of-28 attempts for the game, while UF was only 12-of-21 (57 percent).

Kentucky also outshot UF from the field. The Wildcats hit 23-of-49 attempts (47 percent) and were a solid 8-of-18 (44 percent) from 3-point range, while the Gators were 25-of-61 (41 percent) and just 4-of-15 (27 percent) from beyond the arc.

The game was eerily similar to the first matchup in Gainesville Jan. 12. In that game, Kentucky built a 15-point lead before UF rallied to tie at 72-all with five minutes left, only to get outscored 17-5 down the stretch as the Wildcats posted an 89-77 win.

Freshman guard Eric Bledsoe, who burned UF for a career-high 25 points in the first meeting, shared game-high scoring honors Sunday (14 points) with teammate Darius Miller, while Patterson had 13 points. Wall had 11 and added a game-high eight assists, and Darnell Dotson scored 10 points. DeMarcus Cousins, UK's 6-11, 270-pound freshman, added eight points and grabbed a game-high nine boards.

The Gators started out slow, turning the ball over three times in the game's opening three minutes and did not score until Parsons converted a conventional three-point play with 15:53 left in the first half. UF crept to within four, 20-16, when Tyus hit a 15-foot jumper with 10 minutes left before halftime, but the Wildcats threatened to blow it open by going on a 14-0 run to take a 34-16 lead.

But with Boynton running the point the last five minutes with Walker on the bench with two fouls, the Gators outscored Kentucky 15-7 to pull within 41-31 at intermission despite committing seven first-half turnovers and allowing the Wildcats to hit 6-of-11 from 3-point range.

"Kenny Boynton really kept us in the game in the first half," Donovan noted. "I thought he was phenomenal."

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