With ESPN College GameDay in town and an opportunity to set themselves apart from the pack in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern division, the No. 23 Florida Gators (18-5, 7-2 SEC) fought off a late surge by the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats (16-6, 4-4 SEC) to prevail 70-68 over their divisional rival on Saturday evening at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL.
Up a game-high 13 points with 11:50 remaining in the contest, Florida allowed Kentucky fight back and re-take the lead with a 17-3 run over the course of six minutes. However, the Gators would hang in there and out-score the Wildcats 5-2 over the final two minutes of the game to come away with the win.
Florida senior forward Chandler Parsons registered team-highs in points (17), rebounds (12) and assists (five) for his fifth double-double of the season and the 12th of his career. He has now grabbed 10 or more boards in five-straight games and posed a double-double in back-to-back contests as well as three of the last five.
Kentucky scored the first six points of the game before redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin posted five straight to cut Florida’s deficit to one. The Gators took the lead three times in the first half, going into the locker rooms up 34-32 even though Wildcats guard Jon Hood hit a buzzer-beating jumper to end the opening period.
UF started the second half with a 7-0 run to go up nine and an 8-0 run to take their game-high 13-point lead, 55-42. UK answered in kind with their explosive 17-3 run to jump ahead 59-58 with 5:43 remaining in the contest.
The teams traded leads from that point forward with two free throws by Kentucky G Brandon Knight giving his team a 66-65 advantage with 2:05 left. After two free throws by Florida junior point guard Erving Walker, senior F Alex Tyus took over.
Tyus played great defense on Wildcats F Terrence Jones to force a missed jumper, grabbed the rebound and hit a nice jump hook from the baseline on the alternating possession to put the Gators ahead 69-66 with 1:13 to go. Jones responded with a power drive and dunk to make it a one-point game with 43 seconds remaining.
With Macklin on the bench and freshman C Patric Young in for free throw purposes, Parsons was the worst shooter on the court from the charity stripe. Walker worked the clock down before eventually passing to Parsons, who was purposely fouled with 12.7 seconds remaining. He missed the first shot but hit his second attempt from the line, putting Florida ahead two.
Kentucky immediately drove the court, but Knight missed an open three to end the game.
With a school-record 12,663 fans looking on in the O’Dome, the Gators defeated the Wildcats for the ninth time in their last 13 meetings. Florida improved to 15-1 when holding an opponent under 70 points this season and has now won 13 of its last 16 games with 10 victories against RPI top 100 teams.
Struggling from the line this year, UF shot 81.8 percent from the charity stripe. Macklin, the Gators’ worst free throw shooter, was a perfect 3-for-3 from the line and finished with 11 points. After being shut out in the first half, Tyus scored all eight of his points in the second and added four rebounds and two blocks.
Florida’s backcourt of Walker and Boynton both struggled from the field. Walker was 1-for-9 from the floor but 6-for-6 from the line, and Boynton was 4-for-12 from the field and 3-for-3 from the charity stripe; each was 1-for-6 from downtown.
Knight posted a game-high 24 points for Kentucky and hit all four of his three-pointers before missing the potential game-winner. Jones added 18 points and seven rebounds.
The Gators out-rebounded the Wildcats 28-27, dished one more dime, coughed up two fewer turnovers and committed eight less fouls. It is the sixth-straight game Florida has hit the boards harder than their opponent.
Now having defeated their second-straight top 25 team inside a week, UF has three days off before traveling to Columbia, SC to face South Carolina on Wednesday at 8 p.m. The game will air live on SEC Network; check your local listings for availability.
Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press