By: Jenna Ladd
On Saturday night in Gainesville, Florida, the No. 1 ranked Kentucky Wildcats managed a close win as they defeated the Florida Gators 68-61 in front of a packed crowd in the O’Connell Center.
Despite coming out with the loss, Florida showed massive amounts of improvement in the way that they played. On Saturday, this team was playing competitively and hungry for a win.
“It’s the first time I felt in 23 games we played to win tonight,” Billy Donovan. said. “I thought we played as a team tonight.”
For the first time in quite some time, Florida had four players score in double digits. Dorian Finney-Smith was the leading scorer, shooting six-of-ten for 16 points along with five rebounds. The other three were Kasey Hill with 12, Eli Carter with 11 and Michael Frazier
In the first half of the game, Frazier was unstoppable. He went 3-3 from the field, 2-2 from the beyond arc and 2-2 from the charity stripe.
Unfortunately for Florida, Frazier twisted his ankle during the game. Frazier tried to play on he ankle but Donovan could be seen telling trainers to not let Frazier back in if he was limping and he ultimately ended up sitting out the last 11 ½ minutes of the game. With him playing that kind of game, it’s hard to imagine if the outcome would have been different with Frazier playing in the end.
“It hurt us, but coach always says that if we’ve got five or six players that are connected we can go up against anybody, so we can’t really worry whether Frazier was coming back in or not; we just had to stay connected and play together,” sophomore guard Kasey Hill said.
Kentucky is known to be a team full of talented players, filled with future NBA talent. That being said, only five of their players scored on Saturday. Granted, four of those five were in double digits, but outside of them the rest of the team missed 11 shots.
Even though the Wildcats were the first to score, the Gators stole away the show. Kentucky never saw a lead again until the second half. The Wildcats gave up 10 turnovers in the first half that the Gators took full advantage of and scored seven points off of.
After the first half Kentucky’s John Calipari head coach said, “We’re playing okay, Florida’s playing great.”
The complications for Florida came in the second half of the game. They lost Frazier, and Kentucky was dominating in free throws and was outrebounding Florida. The Wildcats forced 11 turnovers and made 17 points off of those
turnovers, while the Gators made nine points off of the 15 turnovers they forced.
Due to sloppy playing and the players giving up turnovers, the score bounced back-and-forth quite a bit, with the game tying up on three different occasions. In the end, Kentucky was able to pull away mostly due to taking advantage of free throws. The Wildcats went 21 for 22 while the Gators went 7 for 14 in free throws.
“We’ve got to get in the gym and work on free throws, we still had a chance though, even though we missed free throws and the plays just didn’t go our way,” Finney-Smith said.
It was a tough loss for Florida, but this team definitely overcame the odds and predictions for this matchup’s turn out. The Gators may have lost, but it also showed this team what they were capable of being and how they were capable of playing.
Florida, now 12-11 and 5-5 in the SEC, will look to take the energy that they had in this game into their next matchup against Ole Miss (15-7, 6-3 SEC) on Thursday, February 12 at 7 p.m. in Gainesville, Florida.