Florida vs. Kentucky score: Gators’ NCAA Tournament hopes on brink after loss to No. 6 Wildcats

By Adam Silverstein
March 9, 2019
Florida vs. Kentucky score: Gators’ NCAA Tournament hopes on brink after loss to No. 6 Wildcats

Image Credit: UAA Communications

Another opportunity, another disappointment for the Florida Gators, which dropped their second straight game to a top 10 opponent when they fell 66-57 on the road Saturday at Rupp Arena to the No. 6 Kentucky Wildcats. Though Florida fought back to lead at halftime and looked poised for another nail-biter of a game, the Gators (17-14, 9-9 SEC) dropped their third straight game to end the 2018-19 regular season. The Wildcats (26-5, 15-3 SEC) swept the annual series with their rivals just one year after UF did the same to UK.

What does this mean for Florida’s chances at the 2019 NCAA Tournament? Let’s take a look at what went down in yet another tough loss.

It was over when … Kentucky went on a 15-2 run — aided by seven free throws — to take a 12-point lead with under 6 minutes to play. Florida missed eight field goals during that stretch and were scoreless for exactly 7 minutes (while going 10:07 in the second half with just a single make), creating a deficit that was simply too large for the offensively-deficient Gators to overcome that late in the game.

UF actually used a 15-3 scoring stretch of its own, while making 8 of 10 shots, to take a three-point lead late in the first half. It led 31-30 as UK failed to make a shot the final 5:52 entering the break.

Despite all of that, a complete inability to find the bottom of the net in the second half and a tremendous free throw disparity meant Florida had little chance to win this game once Kentucky took a significant lead. The Gators made just 3 of 18 triples (.167) and shot below-30 percent from the field most of the second half until garbage time.

Exceptional efforts: Senior center Kevarrius Hayes was terrific on the interior, scoring a team-high 19 points on 8 of 9 shooting with five rebounds and two assists. Freshman forward Isaiah Stokes played 13 key minutes and made three significant baskets but slipped on a crucial possession during Kentucky’s run and was silent afterwards.

Odds and ends: Senior guard KeVaughn Allen disappointed for the fourth straight game, hitting just 1 of 6 shots from the field and 1 of 4 from long range; he is shooting 16.1 percent from the field and 12.5 percent from downtown during that stretch, the worst time of the year for him to go cold … redshirt senior G Jalen Hudson missed all five of his three-point attempts and was largely ineffective despite being the only guard who made any impact … freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard made 1 of 8 shots but had eight dimes … freshman F Keyontae Johnson was limited by foul trouble, picking up five in just 11 minutes of action … freshman G Noah Locke played 24 minutes but took just four shots, making half of his attempts … Kentucky dominated the boards (39-23, 28-18 offensive) and scored 39.4 percent of its points at the line, making 26 of 32 from the line; Florida only had 11 attempts

… the Gators fell to 3-11 in Quadrant 1 games and have just one win over a ranked opponent this season (1-8) … Florida is 11-22 against AP Top 25 teams and 2-8 against top 10 team sunder White … this was just the fourth time this season that UF lost when shooting above 40 percent from the field … it was the first time Florida faced top 10 teams in consecutive games since 2007

What it means: Depending which bracketologist you want to trust, the Gators entered Saturday’s game hanging on to a spot in the field. Losing to the nation’s No. 6 team is not an embarrassment, but it does not help Florida’s resume. The Gators are now .500 in SEC play and have lost three straight after going on a five-game winning streak that had them a game away from clinching a spot in the tourney. Instead, Florida was stunned at home by an awful Georgia team and lost — as was expected — to LSU and Kentucky. The Gators will likely need at least one — and possibly two — wins in the 2019 SEC Tournament to move on to the field of 68 … unless the selection committee gives the team a lot of credit for its nonconference strength of schedule and NET ranking (33).

Up next: Florida will wait to learn its first opponent in the SEC Tournament, in which it will enter as a middle seed despite having a chance just one week ago to potentially find a spot as a No. 4 seed in the field.

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