The Florida Gators basketball team (17-13, 8-9 SEC) fell to No. 22 Kentucky Wildcats (22-8, 12-5 SEC) at 88-79 at their last home game on Tuesday night that might have cost the Gators their bid in the NCAA tournament.
The game started out going back and forth, with Kentucky making the first basket then Dorian Finney-Smith answering with a layup to tie the game at 2. This continued as the Wildcats made another basket, which was this time answered by a John Egbunu slam – the first of many.
Florida was able to pull away with their first lead after a three-ball from Devin Robinson that gave the Gators a one-point lead at 8-7 with 17:04 to go in the half. Things were starting to look up for Florida as shots were finally starting to fall for them.
It remained a tight game with ties and leads changing constantly, until the Wildcats went on a 9-0 to convert a one-point lead into double-digits at 24-14 with 9:32 left before halftime. Back-to-back Egbunu slams only interrupted by a UK jumper briefly ended the Gators’ scoring drought with the second going in with 8:05 left in the first.
However, the ball just would not fall for the Gators over the next three minutes. lt wasn’t until a free throw from Robinson and a basket from behind the arc from freshman guard KeVaughn Allen that the previously 14-point deficit got trimmed down to 10 once again.
Kentucky managed to keep a good lead over Florida, until a jumper by Robinson sparked a 8-0 run to bring the Gators within two points of Kentucky with just over a minute until halftime. The Wildcats were not ready to let the momentum be fully taken from them as Marcus Lee slammed one in to extend Kentucky’s lead back to four at 36-32 for halftime.
Coming into the second half, the Gators started off strong forcing a shot-clock violation on the Wildcat’s first possession. Unfortunately for Florida, they were unable to capitalize on their opportunity and Kentucky came back with a quick layup to extend their lead to 6 points.
Egbunu was not pleased with the Big Blue picking up some momentum and made back-to-back baskets finishing off with yet another Egbunu slam to bring the Gators within two of the ‘Cats. The game remained close with the Gators staying within a few baskets of the Wildcats until a quick little 8-0 run pulled UK away to a double-digit lead once again with 14:18 to go.
Florida battled trying to get back in the game, but the shots just would not fall. Overall, the Gators shot 43% from the field in contrast to the Wildcats’ 53%.
Four UF players were able to score in double digits on Tuesday night, John Egbunu with 27 – making for his second 20-point game in a row – Devin Robinson with 11, KeVaughn Allen with 15 and Dorian Finney-Smith with 15. Despite their effort, the Gators needed more shots to fall both from the field and from the charity stripe, especially against a strong offensive team like Kentucky. Not counting Egbunu’s shots, the remainder of the team went just 15-51 from the field.
Unable to make a Cinderella story ending, Florida fell to Kentucky at 88-79 on their last night in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center before it gets a facelift this spring.