Ga­tors hit wall late, fall short

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Sports - By Edgar Thompson egth­omp­[email protected] or­lan­dosen­tinel.com

GAINESVILLE — The Rowdy Rep­tiles — the Florida Ga­tors’ loyal and loud stu­dent sec­tion — camped out Fri­day night and filled their seats two hours prior to Satur­day’s tipoff.

An­tic­i­pa­tion was sky high for a visit from the Wild­cats, the na­tion’s sev­enth-ranked team and the SEC’s gold stan­dard.

Coach John Cali­pari made sure his play­ers got the mes­sage.

Their coach’s words took a while to sink in. Once they did, the Wild­cats were un­stop­pable, eras­ing an 11-point deficit dur­ing the fi­nal 14 min­utes to de­liver the Ga­tors a de­mor­al­iz­ing 65-54 de­feat.

“When we pulled up, there were tents out­side this build­ing,” Cali­pari said fol­low­ing his team’s eighth straight win. “I made sure they looked and said, ‘Do you un­der­stand what it means when we come to town? You bet­ter be fo­cused and ready be­cause that other team is, their fans are and you bet­ter be ready.’ ”

UF coach Mike White’s squad and a sell­out crowd at the O’Con­nell Cen­ter were up to the chal­lenge. For much of the day, the Ga­tors

(12-9, 4-4 SEC) were the bet­ter team and poised to pick up their third straight win — and fourth in five tries — against the Wild­cats.

A layup from se­nior guard Jalen Hud­son with 13:59 re­main­ing gave his team a

42-31 lead and put UF on track for its first win this sea­son against a ranked op­po­nent.

“For 30 [min­utes], we played well enough to beat a ter­rific team that is play­ing re­ally well,” White said. “We just couldn’t hold on.”

The chance for a state­ment win in­stead be­came a fa­mil­iar story from a well­worn script as the Ga­tors suf­fered yet an­other sec­ond­half col­lapse.

“It’s de­flat­ing,” White said.

Af­ter go­ing score­less for more than six min­utes, Ken­tucky (18-3, 7-1) could do no wrong. Two free throws by big man PJ Wash­ing­ton be­gan a 10-0 run to pull Wild­cats within a point. UF mo­men­tar­ily fended off the charge. But a dunk by Wash­ing­ton cut the lead to 48-45 and opened the flood­gates for a game-chang­ing 14-0 Ken­tucky run.

“When PJ Wash­ing­ton got the dunk, af­ter that they fed off that en­ergy, it got them go­ing,” UF fresh­man for­ward Key­on­tae John­son said.

UF could not re­spond, in­stead fall­ing into an of­fen­sive funk that lasted the rest of the game.

“It seemed like we al­most couldn’t score for a cou­ple of days there,” White said.

When the dust set­tled, the Ga­tors had scored just 14 points dur­ing the game’s fi­nal 15 min­utes.

UF fin­ished the sec­ond half shoot­ing 9-of-33, in­clud­ing 1-of-9 from the 3-point line. Af­ter com­bin­ing for 43 points dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s over­time win against Ole Miss, guards KeVaughn Allen and Noah Locke to­taled 17 Satur­day and were a com­bined 3-of-14 shoot­ing from be­yond the arc.

“You’re down 11 on the road. We just had to come to­gether,” Ken­tucky guard Kel­don John­son said. “We had to lock down on de­fense.”

Mean­while, Ken­tucky was 11-of-22 shoot­ing from the field dur­ing the game’s fi­nal 20 min­utes.

Af­ter go­ing 2-of-8 from the field dur­ing the first half, Wash­ing­ton was 3-of-5 shoot­ing to fin­ish with 15 points. He also chipped in 12 re­bounds for his third straight dou­ble-dou­ble and sev­enth this sea­son.

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