No. 13 Gators fall at Kentucky
Published: Saturday, February 26, 2011 at 6:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 26, 2011 at 8:56 p.m.
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Florida had talked about breaking Kentucky's home winning streak heading into its showdown at Rupp Arena.
1. Can Florida contain Kentucky freshman point guard Brandon Knight?
Knight finished with 16 points and 6 assists, but for the most part Florida sophomore guard Kenny Boynton held him in check. But Florida couldn't stop Kentucky junior forward Darius Miller, who had 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
2. Can the Gators wear down the Wildcats by getting quality minutes from their bench?
Florida didn't get much production from its bench. Sophomore forward Erik Murphy gave Florida some quality minutes in the first half, hitting a 3-pointer and playing solid interior defense. But freshmen Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young weren't as effective off the bench as they were in previous SEC games.
3. Will Florida be intimidated by the expected raucous atmosphere at Rupp Arena, where the Wildcats are unbeaten under John Calipari?
For the most part, Florida stayed composed throughout the game. The Gators turned the ball over just 11 times and didn't force too many bad shot attempts. Instead, it was Florida's inability to guard Kentucky off the dribble that cost the Gators a chance to snap Kentucky's 32-game home winning streak.
Junior forward Darius Miller and the rest of the Wildcats had other plans Saturday.
Behind a career-high 24 points from Miller, No. 22 Kentucky took control in the second half and beat No. 13 Florida 76-68 to extend its home winning streak to 33 games.
The Gators (22-6, 11-3 SEC) had their six-game winning streak snapped, but remain in the SEC title hunt. Alabama also dropped to 11-3 in the league with a 68-63 loss to Ole Miss. That sets up a showdown between Florida and Alabama on Tuesday that could determine the league championship.
"A lot of stuff is on the line," Florida senior forward Chandler Parsons said. "We can't come out and play like we did tonight. We're going to be disappointed. We just gotta come out and play the best game of our life."
On Saturday, it was Kentucky's Miller who had the career game. By the end of the first half, the 6-foot-7 Miller had scored 13 points, already surpassing the total of 9 points he scored in the previous meeting between Florida and Kentucky at the O'Connell Center.
"He's one of the most complete players in the league," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "For whatever reason, he hasn't necessarily played that way on the road this year, but he's played that way at home.
"We tried to recruit him some. He's a good player. I think the biggest difference for him from earlier in his career to now is he's really improved his shooting and now when you press up on him, he can go by you."
Miller said his poor performance at the O'Connell Center was on his mind heading into the Florida rematch. Also, Kentucky coach John Calipari said he challenged Miller this week in practice.
"I definitely was thinking about it throughout the week," Miller said. "I was thinking about how I played personally at Florida. Coach Cal kind of challenged me to play better this game. So I just tried to come up and step it up."
Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton led Florida with 21 points. Parsons added 15 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists in another versatile performance.
Even with Miller scoring 13 in the first half, Florida only trailed 34-33 at halftime. But the Gators couldn't stop Kentucky in the final 20 minutes, allowing the Wildcats to shoot 55.2 percent from the floor in the second half.
"The number one goal for us defensively was to contain the ball off the dribble and not let them get in the middle," Parsons said. "I think we did a poor job of doing that. We have to contain the ball a lot better. Miller is a good player. They play unbelievable at home. We just weren't determined enough to keep the ball out of the middle on the drive."
Forwards Parsons, Alex Tyus and Patric Young all took turns trying to stop Miller. No one could. Miller finished the day 9-of-15 from the floor and 2-of-4 from 3-point range.
"We had big guys and they couldn't move with him," Boynton said. "He just drove and the ball and he had open shots and he knocked them down."
After Florida cut Kentucky's lead to 48-47 on a Parsons jumper off an in-bounds play with 13:38 left, Kentucky took control of the game with a 9-2 run. Miller started the run with back-to-back jumpers. After a Vernon Macklin putback, Kentucky center Josh Harrellson had a putback to put Kentucky back up 54-49. Terrence Jones and DeAndre Liggins then followed with back-to-back baskets to extend the Kentucky lead to 59-48.
During the run, Florida was able to get the ball inside, but Macklin and Tyus missed several close shots around the basket.
"Our frontcourt just couldn't quite finish around the basket, and I thought there were some opportunities to really stay in striking range," Donovan said.
Kentucky (20-8, 8-6 SEC) outrebounded Florida 34-32, with each team grabbing 11 offensive rebounds. Kentucky freshman Brandon Knight added 16 points for the Wildcats, with 6 assists to no turnovers.
Florida junior point guard Erving Walker had 10 points, but was just two of 11 from the floor. Donovan said he thought the less than 48-hour turnaround from Thursday night's game against Georgia may have affected Walker, who had three assists and two turnovers.
"Erving Walker to me has really, really had an incredible year and has played very, very well," Donovan said. "This is the first time I felt like he did not necessarily play to the level he was playing at."
Ultimately, though, it was Florida's inability to play well enough on the defensive end that cost the Gators a chance for their first win at Rupp Arena since 2007.
"They were determined to get to the hole," Boynton said. "Basically they gave us a move, we probably got complacent, and they would keep going. We expected it but we didn't guard it well. We wanted to keep the ball out of the middle, but they drove to the middle whenever they wanted."
NOTES: Parsons returned to the starting lineup and played 37 minutes against Kentucky. He said his bruised hip is still feeling a little sore. "Definitely not 100 percent, but something I've got to play through and keep fighting," Parsons said. ... Calipari notched his 500th career coaching win, though that includes 42 wins that were vacated due to various rules violations at Memphis and UMass. ... Florida dropped to 5-4 this season in afternoon tips. The Gators are 17-1 this season in tips after 6 p.m.
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