(8) Florida Gators basketball (16-17) dropped its third game to the (1) Kentucky Wildcats (32-0) this season, this time in the quarterfinals of the 2015 SEC Tournament on Friday afternoon at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.
With the loss, Florida finished below .500 entering the non-conference postseason for the first time since head coach Billy Donovan‘s second season with the program in 1997-98. The Gators also lost to their longtime-rival Wildcats thrice in a single season for the fifth time (1995-96, 2002, 2012).
OnlyGators.com breaks down Friday’s action with eight quick-hitters:
It was over when: A 7-0 run, including four free throws, pushed Kentucky ahead by 14 with under five minutes to play. Donovan got a bench warning for complaining about the uneven officiating, and Florida was unable to fight back from a devastating foul disparity built throughout the contest. UK ended the contest with a 14-2 stretch as UF went 5:09 without a field goal.
“I thought we had some moments. I thought we played very, very well. Certainly we got off to a good start, which was positive. … Statistically, if you look at the game, everything was pretty even,” Donovan said. “The difference in the game was the free throw line. Twenty-three attempts to our five was a huge factor in the game. … If you take away the free throw line, it’s pretty consistent all the way through. Just about every stat’s pretty even. But the one huge drastic difference was the free throw line and that was really, ultimately, the margin in the game.”
Significant stretch: Two Florida turnovers helped fuel a 9-0 run for Kentucky, which gave the Cats an 11-point lead with 14 minutes to play. UF redshirt senior center Jon Horford responded with five straight points to cut his team’s deficit to six, but his the Gators never got within fewer than five over the duration of the contest.
Prominent players: While Florida’s most prominent scorers were completely ineffective, Horford led the way for the Gators with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Redshirt junior guard Eli Carter joined Horford by hitting 5-of-10 field goals for 11 points.
First half focus: Florida began the contest 7-for-9 from the field and held a five-point lead but saw it disappear due to turnovers and fouls in the early going. Freshman point guard Kasey Hill committed the Gators’ fifth turnover with eight minutes left in the half; it resulted in a fastbreak for the Wildcats and a lead change as UF slowed down with a 1-for-9 stretch. Overall, Florida committed seven turnovers and eight fouls in the first half alone and failed to score for the final 2:24 of the opening period. Hill posted eight points and four assists.
“In the first half, we had some great plays. We drove the basketball, we got it down the lane, we made dump down passes. We were getting layups to start the game. They were still there. … I didn’t feel like we had trouble running our offense. I thought at times, certain situations when we struggled, we didn’t make good smart decisions when we got in the paint and/or at times didn’t have a good enough angle to finish over their length,” Donovan noted.
Standout stat: The disparities in fouling (18-11 UF) and free throw attempts (23-5 UK) were way too much for the Gators to overcome. That has been a trend in all three meetings this season. UF committed 53 fouls and made 13-of-26 free throws (.500) in the three contests, while UK committed just 35 fouls and went 55-for-66 from the line (.833). “I don’t think that Kentucky going to the free throw line 23 times was unwarranted. I think we probably did foul them. But I know we should have been to the free throw line more than five times,” said Donovan.
What it means: Florida lost thrice in a single season to Kentucky for the fifth time (1995-96, 2004, 2012). The Wildcats, still undefeated, will look to match the Gators’ 2013-14 record of winning 21 games in a single season against SEC opponents. UF also finished a season below .500 for the first time since 1997-98.
Next up: The Gators will now wait to learn of their fate – either their season will continue in the NIT or Florida will likely not play again until the 2015-16 campaign, as it is unlikely the program would accept an invitation to a third-tier postseason tournament.
Everything else: Kentucky was not called for a shooting foul on its first nine fouls over the opening 27:52 of the game … junior guard Michael Frazier II and redshirt junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith combined to go 2-for-13 from the field and 0-for-5 from three with six points, though Finney-Smith grabbed a team-high six boards … no UF player outside of Horford, Carter and Hill scored more than three points; seven UK players achieved that mark