Gators grind down Cats

Kentucky's young Wildcats may have played one of their better games of the season on Saturday against No. 3 Florida. Like so many of the Gators' other opponents have learned this season, it wasn't enough.

LEXINGTON, Ky.Kentucky's young Wildcats may have played one of their better games of the season on Saturday against No. 3 Florida.

Like so many of the Gators' other opponents have learned this season, it wasn't enough.

In a game that featured 12 ties and 11 lead changes, Florida's veteran lineup dominated the final six minutes in the face of a raucous crowd of 24,425 at Rupp Arena. The Gators broke a 53-53 tie by scoring on every possession down the stretch en route to a 69-59 win.

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"What (Florida) did, they've done, I'm guessing, 10 games this year, where, with five minutes to go, four minutes to go, three minutes to go, it's anybody's ballgame," UK coach John Calipari said. "Then they just grinded better than the other team grinds it, like they did us. They were just a little too experienced for us down the stretch.

"I'm not happy, but we lost to a good team. We had our chances, and we're not ready to win that kind of game."

Kentucky held a 45-38 lead with 11:12 left in the second half, but Florida scored nine points on its next three trips via a pair of old-fashioned three-point plays by center Patric Young and a trey by point guard Scottie Wilbekin. That helped turn the deficit into a one-point lead with 8:32 to go.

Kentucky briefly regained the lead, but a technical foul against Calipari may have turned the momentum for good.

"Could've," said Calipari, who claimed to be unaware of why he was T'd up by the officiating crew. "Could've."

The decisive final six minutes included Florida making 11 free throws in 13 attempts and grabbing two huge offensive rebounds that led to second-chance points. The biggest was a strong board by Dorian Finney-Smith that became a 3-pointer by Michael Frazier, turning a two-point lead into a five-point margin with 4:16 to play.

Kentucky got no closer than three the rest of the way.

Florida (23-2, 12-0 SEC) tied the school record with its 17th consecutive win and became only the third visiting team to win in Rupp Arena during Calipari's five seasons with the Wildcats. The Gators extended their lead in the league standings by three games over No. 14 Kentucky (19-6, 9-3 SEC) who saw a 22-game home winning streak end.

Senior forward Casey Prather led the Gators with 24 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the floor and chipped in with four rebounds and four steals. Florida also got 23 points from Wilbekin, another senior who went 11-of-12 at the free throw line and, perhaps more importantly, dictated tempo to near perfection. The Gators scored points on every possession they had from the 11:19 mark until the final horn.

"I thought he did a really good job," Florida coach Billy Donovan said of Wilbekin's play at the point. "It was really no different than what John was doing with the Harrisons, putting them in high pick-and-rolls and then letting guys create and make some plays. We were trying to do the same thing with Scottie. He was able to draw some fouls. He was able to get to the free-throw line. That was important. He made a couple shots. He got the ball too some guys that made some plays.

"I thought down the stretch, when it was a five, six-point game, we got a couple stops there that kind of opened the game up for us. But, Scottie, obviously being a point guard, certainly controlled and did a really, really good job."

Florida shot 22-of-28 at the line as a team to help overcome an uncharacteristic 3-for-13 shooting day from beyond the arc. Kentucky, meanwhile, hit only 14 of 23 free throw attempts and finished with its lowest scoring output of the season.

Freshman guard Andrew Harrison led UK with 20 points and four assists. Fellow freshman James Young followed with 19 points from the wing. Freshman forward Julius Randle added 13 points and 13 rebounds, but had just three points in the second half as the Gators made adjustments to double-down on him more aggressively.

The Wildcats, who shot 48 percent from the field compared to just 44 percent for the Gators, got almost no production from three key players - freshman guard Aaron Harrison (1-7 FG, 3 points) and sophomore big men Willie Cauley-Stein (2 points, 2 rebounds) and Alex Poythress (0 points, 2 rebounds).

NOTES:

• Florida won for only the ninth time in 57 games against UK in Lexington. The Wildcats lead the all-time series 94-35.

• UK lost for the first time with the starting lineup of Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, James Young, Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson. That lineup is now 4-1.

• The Wildcats are now 81-3 at Rupp Arena under John Calipari. Billy Donovan won at Rupp Arena for only the fourth time in 18 games with Florida.

• Kentucky returns to action Tuesday at Ole Miss in a 7 p.m. ET tipoff on ESPNU. The Wildcats will have a rematch with Florida on March 8 in Gainesville.

Jeff Drummond has covered University of Kentucky sports for newspapers, magazines and online publications since 1988 and for FOX Sports since 2012. A Richmond, Ky., native, he currently resides in Lexington.

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