Florida vs. Kentucky score, takeaways: Gators fall in finale, nearly extinguishing NCAA Tournament chances

By Adam Silverstein
March 5, 2022
Florida vs. Kentucky score, takeaways: Gators fall in finale, nearly extinguishing NCAA Tournament chances
Basketball

Image Credit: GatorsMBK / Twitter

Hosting a mountain of an opponent in the No. 7 Kentucky Wildcats, it was clear the Florida Gators would have a significant summit ahead in their regular-season finale. That effort ultimately went as expected Saturday afternoon in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center as Florida fell 71-63 to Kentucky, all but dousing its chances for a postseason appearance in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

Despite a boisterous pregame atmosphere that amped up the crowd as the Gators honored star forward Keyontae Johnson with a ceremonial start, neither the program nor its fans were able to maintain the momentum that comes with homecourt advantage. UF trailed 41 seconds into the game and never got closer than six points over the final 31:13 of the contest.

The loss not only completely drops Florida off the NCAA Tournament bubble, it increases the heat on the seat of head coach Mike White. In addition to being incredibly inconsistent on the court this season, the Gators saw their fanbase become increasingly apathetic, resulting in the lowest average home attendance in years.

Keep on reading for a more in-depth look at UF’s bracketology outlook along with what this means for the program going forward in our Fastbreak Takeaways from the game.

It was over when … the Gators attempted to make an extremely late run, using a 8-2 scoring stretch to cut their deficit to six with 53 seconds remaining. After forcing an inbounds turnover, redshirt senior guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr. missed an open three, giving the ball back to the Wildcats to close the game out at the line. UK scored its final six points at the charity stripe.

Florida had twice cut its deficit to seven in the opening minutes of the second half, but Kentucky used a quick 7-0 run — all from star F Oscar Tshiebwe — to go up 14. It took more than 17 minutes for UF to get any closer, but Tshiebwe’s dominance won out in the end as the national player of the year favorite scored 27 points on 11 of 16 shooting with 15 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

First half focus: Kentucky took it right to Florida at the tip and used a 9-0 run to take a commanding 25-11 lead on the hosts with 9 minutes until the break as the Gators opened just 7 of 22 from the field. UK soon increased its advantage to 16. UF used a 10-0 run to cut its deficit down to six as the visitors missed five straight shots, but the Wildcats scored the final six of the half as the Gators were scoreless the final 2:29 to trail by 12 at the break. Seniors Colin Castleton and Anthony Duruji combined to score 16 of Florida’s first 17 points and represented 69% of its scoring in the period as UF went just 11 of 30 from the floor through 20 minutes.

Exceptional efforts: Castleton was once again the straw that stirred the drink for Florida, and it might have been enough for an upset victory if he received any help from his teammates. On Senior Day, Castleton scored 23 points on 11 of 19 shooting with 11 boards, accounting for 37% of the Gators’ scoring. It was Castleton’s ninth double-double of the season.

Odds and ends: Florida fell to 47-107 all-time against Kentucky with a 26-39 mark in the O’Dome … the Gators are now 4-10 against the Wildcats under White with a 2-5 record at home … UF is 1-7 in its last eight meetings with UK over the last four seasons … the Gators are now 5-8 this season when scoring fewer than 70 points and 4-10 when allowing 70+ …

after setting consecutive season-highs by making 45.2% and 47.6% of its 3-pointers over the last two games, Florida converted just 15% of its chances (3/20) on Saturday … senior G Myreon Jones was notably off, making just 1 of 7 attempts to finish with five points … Duruji scored nine in the first half but just one over the latter period … Fleming went 0 of 9 from the field and 0 of 3 from downtown but hit 7 of 8 free throws; his teammates went 3 of 8 from the line … Kentucky was the more efficient shooting team in every phase, and Florida did not have any other noticeable down points in the game

What it means (bracketology): The Gators are out of the NCAA Tournament … at least for now. Florida could technically play itself into the field with an astounding performance in the SEC Tournament, but it would take either winning the event (earning a guaranteed bid) or defeating a couple AP Top 25 teams on its way to the final to improve its resume enough.

UF is now 2-9 against Quadrant 1 teams and 6-11 against Quadrants 1-2. It is also 3-4 in its last seven games, and while that mark includes a huge win over then-No. 2 Auburn back on Feb. 19, it also features three losses to top 25 teams (0-2 vs. Kentucky) and a road defeat at the hands of a horrendous Texas A&M team.

As for White, not only is he 1-7 against UK over the last four seasons, he’s now 8-27 against top 10 teams during his tenure leading the Gators and 2-7 against top 25 teams this season. Florida is neither playing nor recruiting well enough, and significant offseason changes to the roster after numerous players transferred were hardly a good look.

Given the state of SEC basketball being stronger than it’s been in years — five teams are currently ranked among the AP Top 25 — UF has slid to being a middle-of-the-road squad in the conference. For a program that used to battle Kentucky for top billing in the SEC every season, that is quite a fall for Florida across White’s tenure. Regardless of how the Gators play in the SEC Tournament and wherever they wind up in the postseason, athletic director Scott Stricklin will have a (not-so-difficult, at least in our eyes) decision to make.

What’s next? Play begins in the SEC Tournament on Thursday in Tampa, Florida. It is not yet known when the Gators will play or who they will face in their first game.

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