Gators hit wall late, fall short
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.