Florida rally fails vs. UK


Florida's Ray Shipman, right, scuffles for possession against Kentucky's Eric Bledsoe, left, during the first half at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Tuesday, January 12, 2010.

Aaron E. Daye/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 11:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 11:31 p.m.

The smallest guy on the floor nearly shot Florida back to an upset against No. 2 Kentucky.

Facts

Three questions, three answers

1. Can Florida contain Kentucky freshman point guard John Wall?
Wall had 19 points, but scored Kentucky's last seven points when the game was out of reach. Florida held Wall to 7-for-17 from the floor and 1-for-7 from 3-point range. But Wall also had six assists and a beautiful block of a layup attempt by Florida freshman guard Kenny Boynton that demoralized the Gators late in the game.

2. Can the Gators stay out of foul trouble against Kentucky's dribble-drive offense?
For the second straight game, Florida center Vernon Macklin picked up two first-half fouls and was forced to sit the final 10 minutes of the first half. Macklin had eight points and three rebounds in 19 minutes. But no other Gator player had more than three fouls. Florida, meanwhile, forced Wall and DeMarcus Cousins into each drawing two fouls in the first half. Florida was exceptional at the free-throw line, making 17 of 20 attempts.

3. Will Florida's press create more turnovers and disrupt Kentucky's offensive flow better than it did against Vanderbilt?
Florida only scored six points off turnovers and 10 points overall. The Gators chose to stick to their 2-3 zone and pressed infrequently in an effort to keep Kentucky from getting easy baskets in transition. But after holding Kentucky to 38 points in the first half, the Gators gave up 51 points in the final 20 minutes.

But for as many 3-pointers as sophomore 5-foot-8 point guard Erving Walker hit in the second half, Kentucky had answers at the other end of the floor. And Florida ran out of gas late in an 89-77 loss to the Wildcats before a sellout crowd of 12,618 at the O'Connell Center.

Florida (11-5), fell to 0-2 in the SEC for the first time under head coach Billy Donovan. The last time the Gators started conference play 0-2 was 1995-96, Lon Kruger's last season as UF head coach.

"I don't know how to feel at this point," Donovan said. "I'm certainly disappointed. I feel like at the same point I need to go and watch film and try to find ways to get our team better."

Kentucky (17-0, 2-0 SEC) improved its best start to a season since 1965-66. The Wildcats got a combined 44 points from their freshman backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and John Wall. Bledsoe, who said he would have gone to Florida had the Wildcats not hired head coach John Calipari, led all scorers with 25 points. Wall added 19 points and six assists.

Walker scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half, making all four of his 3-pointers in the final 20 minutes. Alex Tyus added 17 points and seven rebounds, including his first two career 3-pointers, and freshman Kenny Boynton had 12 points.

Patrick Patterson (15 points) and DeMarcus Cousins (13 points) also reached double figures for Kentucky.

Florida rallied back from down 15 points in the second half, tying the score at 72 on a putback from center Vernon Macklin with 5:13 remaining. But Macklin fouled Patterson on a hook shot that put Kentucky back ahead 74-72. Then, the Gators were unable to box out on a Patterson missed free throw.

Kentucky retained possession and made the Gators pay. Sophomore guard Darnell Dodson hit a 3-pointer in what amounted to a five-point play, putting the Wildcats back ahead 77-72.

Missed box outs on free throws also proved costly in losses to Richmond and South Alabama earlier this season.

"Our margin for error is so small, much smaller than Kentucky's," Donovan said.

After Florida's Chandler Parsons made one of two free throws at the other end, Bledsoe made a 3-pointer with 3:50 left to extend the Kentucky lead to 80-73.

Florida failed to score on its next five possessions during a three-minute scoring drought. Wall blocked Boynton on an open layup attempt and scored Kentucky's final seven points to close out the game.

"We have to learn how to finish games out," Boynton said. "I think they just wanted it more than we did. They did the job at the end."

Walker didn't get a shot attempt during the final three-minute stretch.

"We had good looks, but they just made more shots in the end," Walker said.

Said Donovan: "I was OK with the shots we had. They were trying to run the clock late with the lead."

Kentucky extended its 38-31 halftime lead to 51-40 on a Bledsoe 3-pointer with 15:38 remaining. The Wildcats then went inside to Cousins, who scored six straight points on two free throws and an inside layup to put the Wildcats ahead 57-42.

But Florida battled back. Walker hit back-to-back 3-pointers and made two more free throws to cut the Kentucky lead to 59-50. After Tyus scored on a goaltending call against Cousins, he came through on the other end with a nice block of a Patterson layup attempt. Boynton then hit a layup in transition to cut the Kentucky lead to 63-56.

Walker stayed hot, cutting Kentucky's lead to 68-64 on back-to-back 3-pointers. Off a Darius Miller miss, Macklin hit a driving layup in transition to cut UK's lead to 68-66 with 8:27 remaining.

"I was just trying to make some shots to get our team right, give us a spark and some energy," Walker said.

Florida's 2-3 zone frustrated Kentucky early. The Wildcats made just two of their first 11 shots from the floor and turned the ball over four times in the first eight minutes.

Tyus hit his first career 3-pointer to put the Gators up 7-0 early. But like Kentucky, Florida struggled early from the perimeter, making just three of its first nine from the floor and one of its first nine from 3-point range. Florida finished the first half 3-of-13 from 3-point range.

For the second straight game, Macklin got in early foul trouble. Macklin picked up his second foul of the half at the 10:08 mark on a Cousins putback that gave Kentucky its first lead, 14-13. But Florida responded with a 6-1 run, scoring back-to-back baskets in transition on a dunk from Erik Murphy and a Ray Shipman layup to give the Gators a 19-15 lead.

It was short lived. Wall and Bledsoe combined for eight straight points during an 8-0 run that put the Wildcats back ahead. Wall hit back-to-back 17-footers to put Kentucky up 21-19, and Bledsoe followed with a layup in transition.

Florida was able to get Kentucky in foul trouble in the first half as well. Cousins picked up his second foul with 4:04 remaining in the first half. Wall picked up his second foul with 3:41 remaining when senior Dan Werner took a charge in the lane.

But Florida couldn't take advantage of Wall and Cousins being on the bench. After Tyus made his second career 3-pointer to cut the Kentucky lead to 29-26, the Wildcats answered with a 7-0 run. Bledsoe gave Kentucky its biggest lead of the first half, 36-26, on a pair of free throws.

"We put a lot of attention on Wall and Bledsoe hurt us," Walker said.

Boynton banked in a 3-pointer to cut the Kentucky lead to 36-29 with 56.5 seconds left in the half, but Bledsoe answered with a jumper to put the Wildcats back ahead 38-29. Werner drew a foul on a second-chance effort with 1.8 seconds left and made both free throws to cut the Kentucky lead to 38-31 at halftime.

"We came back, but we shouldn't have been down 15 in the first place," Walker said. "There are no moral victories. We have to get back and work hard to get better."

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