3 takeaways from Florida Gators basketball loss at No. 4 Kentucky

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer
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The Florida Gators men’s basketball team saw its four-game win streak snapped Saturday with a 78-57 loss in Lexington, Kentucky, to the No. 4-ranked Wildcats.

Florida senior forward Colin Castleton, who finished the game with 18 points and seven rebounds, opened the scoring, only for Kentucky to go on a 20-4 run over the next 5:08 of the game. 

UF wasn’t quite ready to throw in the towel. 

A lay-up from UF guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr. cut the Wildcats’ lead to 33-28 heading into the locker room at halftime. But the Gators would have no second-half comeback this time, as Kentucky opened the second half on a 13-2 run before the under-16 timeout en route to improving to 15-0 at home this season. 

“Transition defense, it wasn’t our best effort of the season in terms of transition defense. The biggest key to the game for us. We started the game with less urgency, less communication-level needed,” Florida coach Mike White said. “I was disappointed in the start of the second half in terms of our energy level.

“I thought for 30 minutes we did some things that put us in position to maybe come here and be competitive down the stretch, and it fell apart on us.”

Here are 3 takeaways from Saturday’s contest.

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Tyree Appleby exits early, returns briefly in 2nd half

Tyree Appleby, Florida’s second-leading scorer, exited Florida’s 21-point loss after taking a knee to the thigh from Kentucky guard Sahvir Wheeler. Appleby collapsed face-first to the court in pain and needed to be helped to the sideline by Florida athletic trainer Dave Werner.

The former Cleveland State transfer quickly departed for the locker room, where he was diagnosed with a re-aggravated thigh bruise, according to FloridaGators.com’s Chris Harry, who added Appleby was questionable to return. Appleby initially bruised his left thigh in Florida’s 72-63 win over Georgia.

“He re-aggravated an injury that occurred in the not so distant past,” White confirmed in his post-game press conference.

When the second half commenced, however, Appleby was back out on the floor. But the bruised thigh was clearly still bothering Appleby, and he was done after playing just three minutes in the second half. 

“It’s part of the game. You hate it for Ty. He’s really played well as of late, especially down the stretch in some of these wins that we’ve had,” White said. “He thought that he could give it a go, but obviously he wasn’t himself.”

White didn’t have an update on Appleby’s condition or a timeline for his recovery.

“Tyree, he’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever played with,” Castleton said. “I already knew he was going to try and play (in the second half), but obviously he couldn’t go because of his injury.”

Florida Gators forward CJ Felder (1) blocks a shot by Kentucky Wildcats guard TyTy Washington Jr. (3) during the first half at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center.

C.J. Felder helps UF erase early deficit

Early in the first half, with the Gators facing a 20-8 deficit, Florida forward C.J. Felder knocked down consecutive three-point attempts to make it a two-possession game. It was a promising sign from Felder, who has battled through injury and, most recently, illness in his first season with the Gators.

Felder knocked down multiple three-point attempts in four of his first 13 games at Florida, but the transfer from Boston College was just 3-of-9 from long-range over UF’s previous 10 contests before having success from outside against the Wildcats. 

“He’s a good shooter with a nice stroke, he’s lived in the gym,” White said of Felder. “He’s become a better shooter.”

But the Gators, having been out-muscled and out-rebounded in the low-post throughout the contest, need more from Felder than just outside shooting. As he progresses, Felder has to be more effective in the low post, said White.

“C.J. can’t be one-dimensional for us. There’s no excuse for us to have five offensive rebounds,” White said. “We’ve got to have more fight on the interior. We have to fly around with reckless abandon to a further extent than what we’re doing right now, and C.J. can be a factor in that category as well.”

Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe (34) shoots while defended by Florida's Colin Castleton (12) during the first half in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022.

UK's Oscar Tshiebwe has his way

Florida was well-aware of the threat Oscar Tshiebwe posed. Turns out there wasn’t much the Gators could do about it. 

Tshiebwe, a Player of the Year candidate, had 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting, while hauling in 19 rebounds. 

The Wildcats won the rebounding battle, 41-25, resulting in 20 second-chance points to just seven for the Gators.

“Defensively, obviously scored it, drew fouls – I mean, we got five offensive rebounds as a team, and he got 10. That’s unbelievable,” White said. “He’s a phenomenal player.”

Castleton, who was tasked with limiting Tshiebwe, acknowledged the Wildcats’ extra possessions on the offensive end played a significant factor in the outcome. Kentucky attempted 67 field goals to UF’s 51. 

“It’s everything, because it’s more opportunity to score the ball, and usually when he gets it, it’s right around the rim,” Castleton said of Tshiebwe, “so it’s just like a shot-put or like a volleyball tap, so it’s just right there, and he just puts it right back up. And he does a good job of that. He’s probably the best rebounder I’ve ever played against.”

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