Florida vs. Kentucky score, takeaways: Gators collapse, blowing 18-point lead in second half to No. 6 ‘Cats

By Adam Silverstein
March 7, 2020
Florida vs. Kentucky score, takeaways: Gators collapse, blowing 18-point lead in second half to No. 6 ‘Cats
Basketball

Image Credit: GatorsMBK / Twitter

It all looked to be set for Florida Gators basketball. After a season of tremendous ups and downs — including questions about the team’s chemistry and head coach Mike White’s effectiveness — Florida was up 18 points in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Senior Day over the No. 6 Kentucky Wildcats. It was not that the Gators were simply beating the ‘Cats; the game was not even close with the hosts winning on both ends of the court and flexing its muscles following a bevy of crowd-popping plays.

Psych.

Just as Florida looked to be closing on a key Quadrant 1 win as it moved toward locking up the No. 2 seed in the 2020 SEC Tournament, it got soft. The Gators (19-12, 11-7 SEC) got absolutely blasted on the interior over the final 12 minutes of Saturday afternoon’s game and ultimately fell 71-70 to their hated rivals, watching their seemingly insurmountable lead disappear for good with 11.6 remaining despite leading for nearly the entire game.

This despite Kentucky being without point guard Ashton Hagans the entire game and seeing star guard Immanuel Quickley foul out with just 12 points in 21 minutes. Florida did suffer an impactful injury as well (see below).

What went down in the O’Dome? Do you really want to know? OK, keep on reading with some fastbreak takeaways from Florida’s disastrous loss.

It was over when … a deep prayer of a three-pointer at the buzzer attempted by sophomore point guard Andrew Nembhard twice rimmed out, sending the Gators to a devastating one-point home loss to the Wildcats.

Florida led by a game-high 18 points with 11:48 to play but was unable to hold on to its massive advantage. Kentucky used an extended 26-9 scoring stretch over 9:08 to cut its deficit to a single point, and after some back-and-forth over the final few minutes, took its first lead of the game with 11.6 seconds to play. As such, a team in the Gators that overcame deficits of 20 and 22 points this season also blew an 18-point lead at home on Senior Day to their chief rivals.

Florida only made three field goals over the final 8 minutes of the game and did not hit a three for the final 13 minutes despite starting 7 of 12 from long range; UF missed its final two triples. Its final possessions included two questionable non-foul calls in the paint and two key miscues from Nembhard, who mishandled the ball on a baseline out of bounds play — leading to a shot clock violation — and turned the rock over on his team’s penultimate possession by driving too aggressively and forcing a pass on the baseline to a double-covered teammate. Kentucky scored on 13 straight possessions and was not called for a foul over the final 8:19.

Exceptional efforts: Freshman G Scottie Lewis was outstanding in the first half with 13 points but quieted down significantly over the final 20 minutes, finishing with 19 points on 5 of 8 shooting while going 8 of 10 from the free throw line. Sophomore G Noah Locke posted 14 points and went 3 of 8 from downtown, missing a couple of key attempts late in the game. Limited with four fouls, sophomore forward Keyontae Johnson was on the bench for a couple crucial minutes late but finished with 12 points.

First half focus: Florida opened the game on a 7-0 run and used a 9-0 stretch to take an 11-point lead midway through the opening period. Kentucky fought back by making 4 of 6 threes in the half, but the hosts answered by going 5 of 8 from downtown to take a 10-point lead into the break with Lewis leading the way through 20 minutes.

Important injury: It was not an ideal Senior Day for the team’s lone graduating player, redshirt senior power forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. Late during an inefficient first half, his left wrist was rolled up under a Wildcats player as both fell on the court. Blackshear’s wrist was wrapped at halftime, but when he attempted to go out of the break, he was unable to continue. In his final home game, Blackshear finished 0 for 4 with no points and five rebounds.

Odds and ends: The Wildcats have swept the Gators in consecutive seasons for the second time in a six-year stretch, previously doing so in 2015-16 … Kentucky has won four straight over Florida … an unranked UF team has not defeated a top-10 UK team since Feb. 5, 2011 … the Gators suffered just their fourth loss when scoring 66+ points this season (18-4) … Florida led for 39:29 of the 40-minute game; Kentucky led for 0:12 … the Gators were outrebounded 19-7 in the second half and outscored 18-12 in the paint … the ‘Cats had 21 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds … freshman PG Ques Glover, who impressed with four points on two shots in the first half, did not play in the second half … Saturday marked the first time UF has lost when shooting .436 or better from three (min. 14 attempts) since Jan. 24, 2015; it had previously won 29 straight such games

What it means: The Gators looked to have their fate locked up with just a handful of minutes to play. They were headed for a No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament and guaranteed double bye. Instead, Florida now waits to find out how the rest of the SEC plays out. It can go from potential No. 2 seed to out of the top four and needing to play in second-round action next week. UF also lost a Quadrant 1 game it clearly should have won at home, likely ruining any chance it had of truly enhancing its NCAA Tournament seed with Selection Sunday just 8 days away.

What’s next? Florida will now look ahead to the 2020 SEC Tournament, which it will begin either on Thursday or Friday in Nashville, Tennessee, against a yet-to-be-determined opponent.

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