No. 10 Kentucky stops Florida, 65-59

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Florida's Kerry Blackshear Jr. looks for an opening on Kentucky's Nick Richards in the first half Saturday in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

By GARY B. GRAVES/AP Sports Writer

LEXINGTON, Ky. — John Calipari praised Immanuel Quickley’s basketball savvy, but only after the Kentucky coach and an assistant first challenged the guard to shoot the ball — or else.

“I said, ‘If you don’t shoot open shots, I’m putting Johnny (Juzang) in because I know he will shoot every shot,” Calipari said.

Quickley got the message and responded with a career game that helped the No. 10 Wildcats earn another hard-fought win.

He scored a career-high 26 points, including 15 of Kentucky’s 17 during a decisive second-half stretch as the 10th-ranked Wildcats pushed past Florida 65-59 on Saturday night for their sixth consecutive win.

Quickley made 4 of 6 from 3-point range and 8 of 17 shots overall to surpass his previous high of 23 points at Auburn on Feb. 1. He scored all but four of his points in the second half. Tyrese Maxey had 13 points for first-place Kentucky (22-5, 12-2 Southeastern Conference), which leads No. 13 Auburn and LSU by two games and took a three-game lead over Florida (17-10, 9-5).

Kentucky’s leading scorer is on a 16-game run of double-digit scoring performances. Nonetheless, Quickley has taken some ribbing for failing to crack 25 points like teammates Nick Richards and Maxey. Against Florida, he was all but threatened to shoot instead of passing, as he did with open looks in the first half.

“I don’t want to say who it was, but one of the coaches yelled at me with some pretty choice words,” Quickley said. “For lack of a better term, he said, ‘You need to score.’ So, that kind of got me.

“I didn’t think I was dribbling to pass, I thought I was just making plays. But it happens sometimes, coaches see one thing and a player sees another.”

A Rupp Arena crowd of 20,489 — including former Kentucky star John Wall of the Washington Wizards — eventually saw bigger things for Quickley, with fans chanting “MVP! MVP!” at him. He is building a case to be considered for SEC Player of the Year.

“He was the best player on the floor,” Gators coach Mike White said of Quickley. “I thought he did a great job finding space, searching. Hit huge shots, and complemented that with terrific defense on the perimeter.”

Keyontae Johnson had 19 points and Kerry Blackshear Jr. scored 18 for the Gators, who had won their previous three games and five of six.

A back-and-forth game featuring 11 lead changes and 10 ties swung Kentucky’s way midway through the second half thanks to Quickley, who knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers for a 50-44 lead with 11:20 remaining. The sophomore guard’s 3 with 1:34 left provided an eight-point cushion.

But Florida rallied within 61-59 on Scottie Lewis’ tip of his missed free throw with 19 seconds left.

Maxey converted a 1-and-1, and Ashton Hagans made a steal that led to Quickley adding two free thows with 1.9 seconds left.

Florida outrebounded Kentucky 30-27 but committed 16 turnovers, leading to 20 points.

RELIEF ROLE

Hagans didn’t start after injuring his leg at LSU but entered the game early and finished with seven points, four assists and six turnovers in 34 minutes.

“It was dangerous what I did with Ashton because if he got hit right on that spot, he’s probably out three games,” Calipari said. “Not real smart. But he said, ‘I can do this, I’ll play.'”

TUNING OUT NOISE

Blackshear visited Kentucky last summer before eventually transferring to Florida, and Wildcats fans let him know with boos every time he touched the ball. He shot 6 of 14 and 2 of 6 from deep and helped keep Florida in the game.

BIG PICTURE

Florida: Blackshear’s perimeter shooting and Johnson’s work inside helped the Gators early. After taking their last lead at 44-41, the Gators made one of their next 11 from the field and struggled to stop Quickley. They were also outscored 36-26 in the paint.

Kentucky: A strong inside presence helped keep the Wildcats within range until Quickley caught fire. Two three-point plays got him started before his string of 3s made the difference in a game where every possession mattered.

UP NEXT

Florida hosts LSU (19-8, 10-4) at 9 p.m. Wednesday, aiming to avenge an 84-82 loss to the Tigers on Jan. 21.

Kentucky visits Texas A&M on Tuesday night in the lone regular season matchup with the Aggies.

Note: UF sophomore guard Noah Locke came into the game with at least one 3-pointer in 24 consecutive games, but he was 0-for-5 at Rupp.


FLORIDA (17-10)

Blackshear 6-14 4-4 18, Johnson 8-13 3-5 19, Lewis 1-3 0-1 2, Locke 0-5 0-0 0, Nembhard 1-6 2-2 4, Mann 5-8 0-0 13, Glover 1-2 0-2 3, O.Payne 0-0 0-0 0, Bassett 0-0 0-0 0, Jitoboh 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-51 9-14 59.

KENTUCKY (22-5)

Montgomery 3-4 0-0 6, Richards 4-7 1-1 9, Juzang 0-1 0-0 0, Maxey 5-11 3-3 13, Quickley 8-17 6-6 26, Hagans 3-7 0-0 7, Sestina 1-4 0-0 2, Brooks 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 25-53 10-10 65.

Halftime_31-31. 3-Point Goals_Florida 6-23 (Mann 3-4, Blackshear 2-6, Glover 1-2, Nembhard 0-2, Johnson 0-4, Locke 0-5), Kentucky 5-16 (Quickley 4-6, Hagans 1-4, Juzang 0-1, Maxey 0-2, Sestina 0-3). Rebounds_Florida 27 (Johnson 9), Kentucky 26 (Maxey 7). Assists_Florida 11 (Nembhard 7), Kentucky 11 (Maxey 7). Total Fouls_Florida 15, Kentucky 15.

 

 

18 COMMENTS

  1. Nice try Gators, but a 6 minute drought of any offense in 2nd half, and you’ll lose at UK every time. And the Florida guards, well Mann’s was the only UF guard to ”chip-in” offensively (so nice job, Mann). Gators have to learn how to get all 8 cylinders humming to beat the likes of U.K. Go Gators & safe travels home.

    • That is all you have in Kentucky. Florida is impressive in nearly every sports most years. Our weakest program Woman’s basketball beat a ranked UK on the road this year. Kentucky always finds a way to get beat every year in the NCAA to a team with lesser talent.

  2. Im so frustrated with this team. they lost because they are so SLOPPY!!!!! even the gator announcer mentioned it! Turnover after turnover, 16 freaking turnovers! They get a steal then kick it off the court on the pass, thats the epitome of their sloppiness!!!!!

  3. Close game. Missed free throws and turnovers hurt. It is hard to win in Rupp when you are playing 5 against 8. The officiating was terrible as always when you play at Rupp. Need to beat LSU at home on Wednesday. Hope that we do not have Dick Vitale has an announcer. Dickie V goes off on tangents that are not related to the game. Dickie was all over how great Coach Cal is and all of their players. Sucking up to them big time.

  4. None of Nembhard, Locke or Blackshear are champions. Johnson, yes. The others, no. I’ll give the freshman a pass but we would be better off without the non-champions on the team. Please guys, go pro. The problem is not Mike White, it is those three players. Bad decisions. Bad shooting. Please guys, just go.

  5. A little harsh on those three David but I know where you’re coming from. Seems as if Locke
    isn’t hitting 3’s he’s useless out there. Blackshear keeps trying to bull his way through two or three defenders and ends up losing the ball or travels…..please Kerry, dish it back out to someone who has to be unguarded. That will help prevent the over guarding on you.

  6. Definitely Locke and Nemhard looked uncomfortable out there. Kentucky did a great job of taking them out of the game. Nemhard could get no open drives to the basket, and if he did there was a Kentucky big waiting on him. I really like Noah Locke but numerous times it appeared to me he was alone in the corner and the ball would go to the other corner. I don’t think we did enough to get him open nor did he move enough to get himself open. We lost because one KY player (Quickley)got hot from long range. We were not fortune enough to have anyone reciprocate. I think some of these players were intimidated by the environment. Noah Locke is one of the beat shooters in the SEC. I know that. Problem is he’s got to know that and shoot like it.