'Cats scratch past Gators in regular-season finale
Published: Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 1:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 6:05 p.m.
LEXINGTON, Ky. — After another disheartening performance in crunch time Saturday from the Gators, Florida coach Billy Donovan was at a loss for an explanation.
“You've got to be able to make a shot,” Donovan said. “You've got to be able to put the ball in the basket. I don't know if there's an answer for that.”
The No. 11 Gators were equal parts careless and unproductive in crunch time in their 61-57 loss to Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Up 57-50 with 7:36 left, the Gators failed to score a single point the rest of the way, a stretch that included 11 straight missed shots and five turnovers.
The loss dropped Florida (24-6, 14-4 SEC) to 0-3 in games decided by five points or less this season. It also was the third time this season Florida failed to hold a lead by seven or more points in the second half on the road. The Gators couldn't hold an 11-point second-half lead at Arizona or a 13-point second-half lead at Missouri.
“We're up seven and we just let it go, we just let it slip away again,” said Florida senior forward Erik Murphy, who led the Gators with 17 points and 11 rebounds. “We've got to fix it. We can't keep doing it. We're trying to.”
When asked how it could be fixed, Murphy replied: “Just making some of those shots that we missed, getting more stops. Just little things adding up.”
The little things proved costly. Florida extended its lead to 57-50 after back-to-back 3-pointers from Murphy and Scottie Wilbekin. Kentucky, playing less than 40 hours after a 72-62 loss to Georgia on Thursday night, appeared winded. And Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein was in foul trouble with four fouls.
Even under those circumstances, Florida failed to pick up its first win at Rupp Arena since 2007. Momentum started to turn when a jumper from Archie Goodwin cut UF's lead to 57-53 with 5:07 left. Then, off an errant pass from Mike Rosario, Goodwin had a steal and breakaway dunk to cut UF's lead to 57-55 with 4:48 remaining.
“That's when I saw Florida start to put (their) heads down,” Kentucky senior guard Julius Mays said.
Rosario was benched for Casey Prather, but the lowlights continued. Tied at 57, Murphy was called for a charge trying to drive on Cauley-Stein. Still tied at 57, out of a timeout, Wilbekin missed Prather on an alley-oop attempt and threw the ball into the stands.
“It's wide open and the execution of Scottie's pass throwing a lefty pass up in the air like that instead of being more fundamentally sound, getting it up there like that, that hurt us,” Donovan said.
Down 58-57 after Cauley-Stein made one of two free throws, Florida had a chance to regain the lead, but Patric Young missed a wide-open reverse layup under the basket. Still down 58-57, Prather made a nice move in the lane and squared up for a 10-foot jumper, but it rimmed out. Prather got his own rebound, but still did not score.
“We were trying to run our offense and get some easy shots,” Murphy said. “We had some easy ones, they just didn't fall for us.”
After a Goodwin turnover, Florida had another chance to take the lead, but Wilbekin failed to even hit the rim on a wild drive to the basket with 56 seconds left.
“For the most part, we defended pretty well,” Donovan said. “We don't even have to shoot 50 percent, but if we make a couple of chippies around the basket, maybe one jump shot, you're right there probably to win the game.”
For as well as Florida defended, holding Kentucky to 39.3 percent from the floor and 23.5 percent from 3-point range, the Gators allowed the Wildcats to score 14 points off their 12 turnovers.
“Those things happen in games,” Murphy said. “You try to eliminate them, but they are going to happen. Nobody is trying to turn the ball over, but they made some defensive plays and we slipped up a little bit.”
Down 59-57, Florida had one more chance to tie the game, but senior Kenny Boynton missed a mid-range jumper with 23.8 seconds left. Florida failed to get the loose ball on an offensive rebound. Mays then made two free throws with 9.3 seconds left to seal the win.
Unlike the Missouri loss, in which Boynton took an off-balanced 3-point attempt late to try to win the game, Donovan said he had no problems with Boynton's game-tying shot attempt. Boynton appeared to get some separation from his defender, but the shot was still semi-contested. Boynton finished with nine points, all in the first half.
“In those situations, you're not getting a wide-open shot,” Donovan said. “I thought he had a fairly decent look. It was unchallenged. There wasn't a hand in his face.”
Despite the loss, Donovan said he felt like the Gators executed better down the stretch than they did against Arizona and Missouri. Asked if shot-making was part of the execution, Donovan responded: “If that was the case, then teams would be making 100 percent of their shots.”
Donovan was more troubled by UF's rebounding margin and turnover issues. Florida was outrebounded 40-34 and Kentucky finished with more second-chance points (13-6).
“I felt like there were a lot of times when we just gave points away,” Donovan said.
Young added 10 points for the Gators, but was just 5 of 11 from the field and had just two rebounds. Goodwin led Kentucky (21-10, 12-6 SEC) with 16 points, while Mays and point guard Ryan Harrow added 13 points apiece.
Florida will next play Friday at 1 p.m. in Nashville, Tenn., as the top overall seed in the SEC Tournament. It's not the ideal way for the Gators to head into the postseason, but Florida will at least have some extra practice time to iron out its mistakes. The Gators finished the game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 8 to 12.
“It's obviously not a good feeling, but the game is over,” Murphy said. “We've got to learn from it and move past it.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.