The sky is not falling. The world is not ending. Life is not ceasing to exist.
In fact five minutes after 13th-ranked Florida’s 76-68 loss to No. 22 Kentucky in front of 24,346 at Rupp Arena was official, the result didn’t really matter much at all because Alabama was beaten, too.
What that means is Tuesday night’s game in the O’Connell Center between No. 13 UF (22-6, 11-3 in the Southeastern Conference) and the Crimson Tide (19-9, 11-3) will be for the conference championship, after all. It’s just that Alabama won’t be coming in on a five-game winning streak and Florida won’t have won seven straight.
The Crimson Tide’s defeat came courtesy of Mississippi, while the Gators pretty much trailed the entire way against the Wildcats (20-8, 8-6), who won their 33rd consecutive home game and gave coach John Calipari the 500th victory of his career.
“We came out here and beat the best team in the conference,” Kentucky center Josh Harrellson said.
Yes you did. But with that said, the Gators did not play badly.
They dished out 18 assists, had four players score in double figures and another, Alex Tyus, just missed with nine points. Pacing UF was Kenny Boynton, who scored a team-high 21 points and has combined to make 8 of 16 three-point shots the last two games.
Still slowed by a deep left thigh bruise, senior swingman Chandler Parsons played a strong floor game, scoring 15 points while recording team highs in rebounds (eight) and assists (seven). He and Boynton also had just one turnover each.
However, their efforts were not enough to overcome a career-high 24 points from UK junior guard Darius Miller, who also added five rebounds, three assists and at 6-foot-6, three blocked shots.
“I think he’s one of the most complete players in the league,” Donovan said. “I think the biggest difference for him from earlier in his career to now is he’s really improved his shooting and now when you press up on him, he can go by you.”
The Gators also were done in by numerous misses from up close by Gator big men and Wildcat center Josh Harrellson pulling down 12 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end.
“About 10-12 minutes to go in the game our frontcourt just couldn’t quite finish around the basket (when) I thought were some opportunities to really stay within striking range,” Gator coach Billy Donovan said. “And then once (the deficit) got to eight or 10 we were constantly playing from behind.”
Added Parsons: “Harrellson grabbing six (offensive) rebounds made it tough down there. Rebounding is an effort thing. We just needed to play harder than them and keep them off the glass. Their big guys did a great job of crashing (the boards) tonight.”
Florida was not able to take advantage of a subpar outing from Kentucky freshman power forward Terrence Jones, who entered the contest averaging 17.6 points, but scored only eight against the Gators. He also spent a good part of the contest in foul trouble, picking up his third with 15:43 left, but never his fourth.
And he may have been responsible for the biggest sequence of the game.
Jones threw in a line-drive jump hook with 2:10 left to give UK a 71-61 lead and then stole the ball from Erving Walker 11 seconds later to basically seal the win for the Wildcats.
The loss, combined with Vanderbilt’s 90-69 victory against Louisiana State, leaves Florida with a two-game lead over the Commodores (21-7, 9-5) with two games to play. The Gators already have clinched at least a tie for the East title, but if UF loses to the Crimson Tide and Vandy tops UK in midweek games, next Saturday’s matchup between Florida and Vanderbilt in Nashville will give the Commodores the opportunity to capture a share of the crown (though Florida owns the tiebreaker for the East’s top seed in the conference tournament).
Now, the Wildcats and Gators find themselves in the odd positions of rooting for one another.
If Kentucky is able to extend its home winning streak to 34 by beating the Commodores on Tuesday night, the Wildcats will tie Vanderbilt for second place in the East and will own the tiebreaker should the standings remain that way. That is valuable in that it would provide a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. That result (or a UF defeat of Alabama) also would give Florida the East championship outright, regardless of what happens next Saturday evening.
“Hopefully, we can bounce back and finish off the (regular) season with a couple of wins,” Parsons said.
*The 24 points Kentucky junior guard Darius Miller scored was a career high, topping the 22 he scored in last weekend’s victory against South Carolina. He entered the game averaging a modest 10.4 ppg, but has averaged 18 ppg his last four games.
*Kentucky’s John Calipari is the second coach to reach 500 wins in 19 seasons, joining Roy Williams, who had 524 when his 19th season concluded.
*With 15 points Chandler Parsons passed former Gator power forward Livingston Chatman for 20th place on Florida’s career scoring list. Parsons now has 1,345 points.
Gator(Gr)ade: B –
Gator Players of the Game: Senior swingman Chandler Parsons scored 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds, dished out a game-best seven assists and turned the ball over just once in 37 minutes. And sophomore shooting guard Kenny Boynton led all Gators with 21 points (on 7-of-13 shooting, including 5-of-9 on three-pointers) to go along with four assists, two rebounds and just one turnover in 29 minutes.
Opposing Player of the Game: Junior guard Darius Miller scored a career-high 24 points. He made 9-of-15 shots, including 2-of-4 on three-pointers. He added five rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots while turning the ball over just once in 35 minutes.
Play/sequence of the Game: Quiet all game, UK freshman forward Terrence Jones made a jump hook with 2:10 left to put his team up 71-61 and followed that up with a steal 11 seconds later. That essentially put the game out of reach.
Stats of the Game: Kentucky outscored Florida on second chance points, 11-1, and had seven blocked shots to UF’s one.
Next Up: The Gators will host SEC West champion Alabama (19-9, 11-3) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. It will be Senior Night for Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus, and the winner of the game will be the SEC champion.