That could make Kentucky's 88-79 win Tuesday night at Florida one of the most important victories the Wildcats have picked up to date.
Five UK players scored in double figures as the Cats bounced back from a disappointing loss at Vanderbilt to win at one of the league's other challenging venues. Jamal Murray led the way with 21 points and eight rebounds, while backcourt mate Tyler Ulis posted a double-double with 19 points and 11 assists. Isaiah Briscoe added 13 points, while big men Alex Poythress and Skal Labissiere combined for 23 points and 18 rebounds in a well-rounded performance.
The Cats shot 53 percent from the field and outrebounded the Gators 45-35.
"It was a nice bounce-back game for us," Briscoe said. "I was having fun out there."
No. 22 Kentucky (22-8, 12-5 SEC) moved a half-game ahead of Texas A&M for first place in the league standings. The No. 20 Aggies were playing at Auburn in the late tipoff Tuesday night. UK closes the season at home Saturday against LSU, while A&M plays host to Vanderbilt before heading to the SEC Tournament.
It was a potentially devastating blow to the NCAA Tournament hopes of Florida (17-13, 8-9), which entered the game as the "last team in the field" on ESPN's tournament projections.
Center John Egbunu led the Gators with 27 points on a 12-for-15 shooting night from the field, but his teammates combined to go 17-for-53 (32 percent). Florida also hurt its chances with a woeful 16-for-37 effort at the free-throw line.
Kentucky played its third game without junior forward Derek Willis, who is recovering from a sprained ankle he suffered in the Texas A&M game on Feb. 20.
Kentucky led by as many as 14 points in the first half, but saw the Gators close on a 14-4 run to make it interesting. Leading 41-38 early in the second half, the Cats went on a 18-9 run to reclaim control of the game. The spurt featured 10 points from Murray, who had been held to just three points on 1-for-6 shooting in the opening period. It was a 52-point second half for UK, who at one point made 10 of 14 shots from the field.
BY THE NUMBERS:
1st - Starting assignment for UK's Labissiere since December 19 against Ohio State. The freshman center responded with 11 points, eight rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal.
5 - Straight wins for UK in the Florida series. The Cats are 99-37 all-time against the Gators.
7 - Double-doubles for UK's Ulis, leading the team.
9 - Consecutive 20-plus scoring games for UK's Murray.
12 - Bench points for the Cats, who had none in the loss at Vandy.
70 - Percent night for UK from the 3-point arc, hitting seven of 10.
"When we have defensive confidence, you look at our team and say 'Man we're good.'" - UK head coach John Calipari.
Kentucky plays host to LSU and All-American candidate Ben Simmons on Saturday at Rupp Arena. The Tigers (17-12, 10-6 SEC) were playing a late game Tuesday night against Missouri. It will be "Senior Day" for the Cats' Poythress. Tipoff is slated for 2 p.m. on CBS.