Despite a valiant effort that kept the score close most of the game, the No. 13/16 Florida Gators (22-9, 10-6 SEC) were unable to hold off the top-ranked team in the country, dropping their third-straight game to end the 2011-12 regular season and falling 74-59 to the No. 1/1 Kentucky Wildcats (30-1, 16-0 SEC) on Senior Day at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL.
Florida senior point guard Erving Walker was honored before the contest but was one of three Gators backcourt members to struggle mightily during the game, scoring just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting in his final appearance in the O’Dome. Guards junior Kenny Boynton and freshman Bradley Beal were also ineffective shooters, combining to hit just 3-of-18 shots from the field and 2-of-10 from beyond the arc.
Sophomore center Patric Young led the way for the Gators with team-highs of 21 points (on 10-of-15 shooting) and nine rebounds. He was matched by Wildcats forward Anthony Davis, who posted game-highs of 22 points and 12 boards for the visitors.
Kentucky started the game on fire from the floor, hitting five of their first six shots (including eight points from G Terrance Jones) to jump ahead 11-4. However, three-pointers by Walker and junior F Erik Murphy on consecutive possessions were part of a quick 10-2 run that gave Florida their first lead of the game at 14-13.
The Wildcats would not be down long, answering the Gators with a 15-2 scoring stretch that earned UK a 28-16 advantage with 7:41 remaining until the break. Kentucky extended that lead to 16 points with 4:08 left, but Florida cut their deficit to eight, ending the half on a 10-2 run including back-to-back threes by Walker and Boynton.
UF maintained their energy coming out of the break, outscoring UK 12-6 and capping their stretch with a powerful dunk by Young to cut the Wildcats’ lead to two with 16:25 left in the game. However, the Gators found themselves down double digits just minutes later as Kentucky responded yet again by scoring eight-straight points.
Florida quickly found some rhythm again and rebounded with another impressive stretch to get within four, but the Wildcats answered back immediately by using a 9-0 run to jump ahead 13 points with 6:09 left in the game.
UK played strong and maintained their double-digit lead the rest of the way, holding UF to just one field goal over the final 9:03 of the contest.
Kentucky bested Florida scoring from the field (52.5-38.2%), downtown (41.7-27.3%), in the paint (40-28), off turnovers (8-2) and on second-chance opportunities (16-10). The Wildcats also outrebounded the Gators 36-30 and 11-9 on the offensive glass and forced seven turnovers on as many steals.
With the loss, Florida retained their bye but will drop to the No. 4 seed in the upcoming 2012 SEC Tournament, facing the winner of five-seed Alabama and 12-seed South Carolina in second-round action on Friday at 3:30 p.m. The game will air live on SEC Network (check your local listings for availability).