Florida vs. Kentucky score, takeaways: Kugel, Reeves impress, but Gators fall short at home

By OnlyGators.com Staff
February 22, 2023
Florida vs. Kentucky score, takeaways: Kugel, Reeves impress, but Gators fall short at home

Image Credit: UAA

A season off the rails seemed like it might hop back on the track on a couple occasions Wednesday night only for the Florida Gators to ultimately fall 82-74 to the Kentucky Wildcats at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida. The loss dropped the Gators to 14-14 on the season, putting them in danger of finishing their second campaign under .500 since 1998.

Florida also lost its fourth straight game against Kentucky, and it has now dropped nine of the last 10 against its top rival. Head coach Todd Golden fell to 0-2 against peer John Calipari, though both contests were hotly contested with the Gators failing late in the second half.

Let’s take a look at what went down Wednesday night with Fastbreak Takeaways.

It was over when … Kentucky forward Chris Livingston put back an uncontested offensive rebound and completed an And1 opportunity to push the Wildcats ahead five points with 49.1 seconds left. The Gators missed their next two shots and could only watch as the visitors pulled away with free throws over the game’s waining seconds.

Despite Florida holding a one-point lead at the break, Kentucky went back ahead early in the second half. Sophomore guard Kowacie Reeves hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 59 with 9 minutes remaining, but UK immediately responded with an 8-0 run and increased its advantage to 11 points. UF pieced together a 9-0 run to cut its deficit to a basket with 1:12 remaining but was unable to get closer.

First half focus: Kentucky outscored Florida 13-4 after the opening whistle and went ahead 30-15 midway through the period. However, the Gators put together consecutive runs of 13-0 and 9-0 as part of an extended 22-6 scoring stretch to end the half, taking a one-point lead the break as the ‘Cats made only 3 of 13 shots down the stretch. Freshman guard Riley Kugel was instrumental in both runs with highlight plays and nifty passes, and he contributed the final seven points of the half with consecutive 3-pointers going into the locker room. Kugel posted 14 points in the opening period with Reeves showing increased intensity attacking the hoop for nine points of his own. The duo combined for 23 of 37 points in the period.

Exceptional efforts: Kugel and Reeves were everything for Florida. Kugel finished with a career-high 24 points, draining 7 of 12 baskets, 4 of 6 treys and 6 of 7 free throws. Reeves scored 16 points — his highest total since Dec. 14, 2022 — by attacking and finishing around the basket. The duo combined for five rebounds and three assists, flashing the exact type of one-two punch the Gators have badly needed all season from their backcourt.

Odds and ends: Florida fell to 41-109 all-time against Kentucky with a 26-40 mark in the O’Dome … Golden went 0-2 against rival UK in his first season … the Gators have lost four straight and nine of the last 10 meetings against the Wildcats … Wednesday’s game was decided in the paint with UK holding a 40-21 rebounding edge and 46-32 scoring edge inside … UF’s two big men combined to grab four rebounds in 40 court minutes … Florida lost for just the third time when leading at the break (11-3), just the second time when shooting 40% or better from downtown (8-2) and just the fourth time when winning the bench scoring battle (10-4) … the Gators fell to 0-13 when trailing with 5 minutes left, 1-11 when being outshot from the field and 6-12 when being outrebounded

What it means: The Gators only had two chances to improve their resume before the regular season concluded, and they lost both. On Wednesday, however, Florida showed a ton of gumption with a strong effort on both ends and obvious offensive improvement compared to its last couple games. Golden also put together one of his best game plans of the season, going deeper into his rotation to keep players fresh with a focus on higher-percentage shots. Florida only took 20 of its 52 shots from beyond the arc, making 40% from deep. In the end, UF could not match up to UK’s immense talent, which pushed the visitors ahead in the game’s final minutes. The Gators are now out of the NCAA Tournament unless they win the SEC Tournament, which is highly unlikely. They are also in danger of finishing below .500 for just the second time since 1998.

What’s next? Florida will play two of its final threegames on the road travelling to Vanderbilt on Saturday before visiting Georgia next Tuesday. The Gators vs. Commodores contest will tip at 6 p.m. ET and air live nationally on ESPN2.

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