It was a monumental task for the struggling Florida Gators to potentially upset the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida, on Saturday night. And as it turns out, it was indeed too much to ask Florida (12-11, 5-5 SEC), which fell to 2-5 in its last seven games as Kentucky (23-0, 11-0 SEC) remained undefeated with a 68-61 victory.
The Gators are now 2-11 all-time against top-ranked teams with all 11 losses coming to the Wildcats. Florida has never defeated a team ranked No. 1 in the nation during a regular-season contest.
OnlyGators.com breaks down Saturday’s action with 10 quick-hitters:
It was over when: Redshirt junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith drained a big trey and redshirt junior guard Eli Carter completed a driving finger roll, each play cutting Kentucky’s lead to two late in the contest. Redshirt senior center Jon Horford then had an opportunity to tie the game at the charity stripe with 1:41 remaining, but the 89.7 percent free throw shooter missed both attempts. In a similar situation nearly a minute later, Horford was called for a travel under the basket as opposed to him drawing a deserved foul while dribbling (which would have given him a chance to redeem himself). The Wildcats held on for the road victory over the Gators, hitting 21-of-22 free throws.
Significant stretch: Kentucky opened the second half 6-for-8 from the field, but a 6-0 Florida run gave the hosts back a two-point advantage with 12:33 to play. The Wildcats responded with a 5-0 spurt to re-take the lead with 11:41 left, holding it for the duration of the contest. UF actually led longer in the game, 19:36-16:19.
Important injury: Junior G Michael Frazier II, who appeared to be on fire early in the contest, twisted his ankle late in the first half. He tried to test it in the final 20 minutes but sat for the vast majority of the period, leaving the Gators without their leading scorer. Frazier was 3-for-4 from the floor and 2-for-3 from beyond the arc with 10 points at the time of his departure. Later, Frazier was officially diagnosed with an ankle sprain.
First half focus: Florida led 20-11 midway through the first half, taking advantage of six Kentucky turnovers while gifting the visitors six early fouls. UK used a 7-1 scoring stretch to get back in the game and capitalized on some of UF’s struggles with an 8-0 run to tie the game at 28-28 with 1:30 to go until halftime. However, Gators freshman point guard Chris Chiozza broke a 4:52 scoring drought with a driving layup off a near-turnover to give the hosts a two-point lead at the break. UF ended the half going 1-for-7 from the field with four turnovers in 11 possessions before Chiozza’s bucket.
Prominent player: With Frazier sidelined, Finney-Smith did some of the heavy lifting in the second half, finishing with a team-high 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting (3-for-5 from three). He also registered a team-high five boards and stayed away from fouling most of the contest until necessary in the final minute of the game.
Perfect play: Chiozza’s go-ahead bucket before the half was Florida’s highlight of the night, but Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein had the true “perfect play” with this driving dunk over UF freshman G Devin Robinson.
Standout stat: Fouling and free throw shooting was once again a major issue for the Gators. Florida committed 19 fouls – putting Kentucky in the bonus early in each half – and went just 7-for-14 from the charity stripe, missing key shots late in the game that might have allowed UF to keep it close and potentially pull off an upset.
What it means: Despite the loss, the Gators looked to be improved in a number of areas, such as pick-and-roll defense and ball movement on offense. Nevertheless, Florida simply had too many holes to plug and Kentucky found a way to pull out the victory.
Next up: Florida will get five days to prepare for an Ole Miss team that it lost to by one on the road. The Gators will host the Rebels on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the O’Dome.
Everything else: Horford committed two fouls just 1:32 into the game … referees called 14 fouls in the first 11:55 of the first half and just one over the final 8:05, putting both teams in the bonus midway through the period … Carter posted 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting but was just 1-for-8 from three … Chiozza was 3-for-5 with six points and four rebounds … the Wildcats committed 15 turnovers to the Gators’ 11 … Kentucky outrebounded Florida 33-20 but UF actually outscored UK in the paint 32-22 … only four Wildcats players scored more than a single point … there were eight lead changes and four ties in the contest