In their final regular season game of the year the Gators fell behind early and were never able to catch up, ultimately losing to the Kentucky Wildcats by a score of 71-63. With 7 minutes remaining the Wildcats were well in control leading the Gators by 14 but Florida clawed their way back to pull the game within 6 with 53 seconds left. A Phlandrous Fleming three-point attempt was Florida’s last opportunity to make it a game but it missed and the Wildcats held on for the win. With the loss the Gators finish 9-9 in the SEC and will await to see their seed in next week’s SEC Tournament based on the results from a few games still to be played on Saturday.
This was Senior Night for the Gators and they had 7 players to honor, but no moment was more special than the opening tip. Keyontae Johnson was able to suit up and get the ceremonial start, lining up against the Wildcats and having the jump ball tipped to him. Florida fans gave him a lengthy standing ovation as he saluted the crowd and his teammates before kissing the floor at center court and getting subbed out. It was an emotional moment for all who got to witness it, and Johnson will go down as one of the most beloved Gators of all time.
Recently Florida’s offense has actually been pretty good and their defense has been the issue but that was flipped on Saturday as the Gators defended fairly well but couldn’t get anything going offensively. Even though their 63 points is far from flattering it was actually much worse, and some uncontested layups in garbage time made their offensive output look better than it actually was. One of their biggest issues was perimeter shooting as they went 3-20 from deep (15%), making it fitting that their comeback attempt ultimately died with a three-ball that was fairly open but didn’t come close to falling. Myreon Jones (1-7), Tyree Appleby (1-4), Phlandrous Fleming (0-3), Kowacie Reeves (0-2), and Brandon McKissic (0-2) all were ice cold from deep and it meant that Kentucky could pack the paint knowing they weren’t scared of getting punished. Colin Castleton still found a way to dominate on the inside (23 points and 11 rebounds) but there wasn’t any secondary scoring to help him out in a game that the Gators could have really used it.
Kentucky big man Oscar Tshiebwe had a field day against the Gators in the first meeting between the two teams with 27 points and 19 rebounds and he was just as good again the second time around finishing with 27 points and 15 rebounds. Florida didn’t have an answer for his deep seal post up attempts, especially when Colin Castleton was off the floor. Whether it’s a perimeter threat like Scotty Pippen from Vanderbilt or an interior monster like Oscar Tshiebwe the Gators haven’t been able to slow down elite scorers and it hasn’t done them any favors down the stretch of SEC play.
Battle On The Boards
In the first meeting of the season Kentucky absolutely bludgeoned Florida on the glass going for 18 offensive rebounds. This time around the Gators were much more disciplined in boxing out and this time only allowed Kentucky to get 8 offensive rebounds. A lot of the credit goes to Colin Castleton who did a much better job of boxing out in this game but Phlandrous Fleming and Anthony Duruji were also noticeably better with their defensive rebounding.
It would have been very easy for the Gators to have gotten blown out again after a rough start and a lead for Kentucky that stretched to 14 points in the second half but once again this team showed toughness and grit to climb back into a game even though things weren’t going well for them. The main takeaway from this game is that it was a complete 180 from what has been the story for the team recently. Over the last couple of weeks the Gators have been good offensively but have struggled defensively. On Saturday they were better defensively, but took several steps back offensively. Is that a positive that they showed they still have some of their defensive edge, or is it a negative that their quality offensive stretch might be fleeting? You be the judge. The Gators will now wait for a few more SEC games to wrap up to know their fate in the SEC Tournament.