Florida had about 30 minutes of good basketball in them Saturday and though that stretch was good enough to keep them in the game it was a 10-minute portion of ice cold offense that let the Kentucky Wildcats get ahead and the Gators had no answers on their way to a 66-57 loss. Holding Kentucky to 41.3% from the field the Gators actually defended at a level that could have won them a major road win over a highly ranked opponent but it was their struggles with the ball that led to their demise, especially during a 7-minute stretch in the second half that allowed the Wildcats to run away with the game. Able to force some tough shots with their tight rotations on defense the Gators showed some fight on their own end but the 15 offensive rebounds they allowed gave Kentucky multiple chances and those trips often ended in points. This loss ends the Gators’ SEC season at 9-9, a number that encompasses the ups and downs they have had as a team through the grind of a tough conference schedule.
PJ Washington (15 points, 9 rebounds), Keldon Johnson (14 points, 7 rebounds), Tyler Herro (16 points, 6 rebounds), and Ashton Hagans (14 points, 3 rebounds) all creative tough matchups for the Gators with their size, athleticism, and skill and the fact that all four of them had big games meant Florida’s chance at a victory was slim to none. All four of those players have good size and length for their position and against a team like the Gators that is small at most positions that size discrepancy was incredibly apparent. As Coach White continues to look at recruiting in the future I think size and length is something he really needs to target.
There were a whole lot of Gators to struggle with the basketball on Saturday. Jalen Hudson had 13 points though he shot 6-16 from the field with 2 buckets coming in garbage time that weren’t heavily contested. He forced up a lot of early, difficult looks that Mike White could not have been happy with and they tanked any momentum the Gators had and swung it heavily in Kentucky’s favor. On quite a cold streak right now KeVaughn Allen had another tough game as he finished 1-6 from the field and couldn’t generate much against the much larger Kentucky perimeter group. Add in 1-8 from Andrew Nembhard and you can quickly see why the Gators struggled to put points on the board at Rupp.
Though the core group of Gators struggled there were some bright spots that shined though. Kevarrius Hayes had 19 points on 8-9 shooting and had some impressive finishes down low through some heavy contact from physical Wildcats, and although Andrew Nembhard was struggling to put the ball in the hoop himself he was able to generate some high-percentage looks for his teammates with 8 assists and only 1 turnover. Off the bench, this was probably the best game of the season for both Isaiah Stokes and Mike Okauru. Stokes had 6 points including a thunderous dunk and a powerful pick and roll finish while Okauru had 6 points with two jump shots while providing fantastic defense on the perimeter. Even though a couple of Florida’s primary weapons were fighting it the success of a few secondary pieces was good to see.
NCAA Tournament Outlook
A win against Kentucky at Rupp would have secured Florida’s place in the NCAA Tournament but now they’re going to need to do some work in the SEC Tournament if they want to go dancing. If Selection Sunday was tomorrow the Gators might find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble and if they go to the SEC Tournament and lose their first game the NIT might be the only postseason play they see. The Gators have had their chances this season and since they couldn’t capitalize they’ll be heading to the SEC Tournament with a huge weight on their backs.
Florida hung in it for a good while with one of the best teams in the country and they did it with their two best scorers really struggling to put the ball in hoop. If that was something I said at the beginning of the season perhaps that would be a positive takeaway but considering this is after the final regular season game it’s extremely concerning. KeVaughn Allen has now strung together multiple poor outings and though we’ve seen some shots fall for Jalen Hudson he is still taking way too many shots that exceedingly low percentage and aren’t contributing to team success. I’m optimistic this team can make some positive adjustments before the SEC Tournament but if the Gators’ key scorers continue to take terrible shots and then miss the easy ones, beating good teams is going to be extremely challenging to do.