3 takeaways from Florida Gators men's basketball loss to No. 6 Kentucky
Colin Castleton’s 23-point, 11-rebound effort wasn’t enough to help Florida overcome the Wildcats’ frontcourt as the Gators fell, 71-63, to No. 6 Kentucky at the Exactech Arena in the regular-season finale.
Kentucky narrowly outrebounded the Gators (19-12, 9-9 SEC), 35-33, and four Wildcats finished the game in double figures. UK led the entire afternoon, with the lead reaching 16 midway through the first half. UF would rally, but each time the Gators failed to get over the hump.
Oscar Tshiebwe recorded his 13th consecutive double-double of the season for the Wildcats (25-6, 14-4), finishing with 27 points and 15 rebounds.
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The Gators struggled from the field throughout, converting just 25 of 61 field-goal attempts, including an unimpressive 3-of-20 from long range.
"We make a couple three-balls, maybe it's different," UF coach Mike White said. "It's just unfortunate we couldn't take advantage on a special day."
Florida did trim the deficit to two possessions with 53 seconds remaining on a layup from Tyree Appleby, but Phlandrous Fleming's ensuing 3-point attempt was short, and the Wildcats proceeded to corral the rebound and secure the victory at the free-throw line.
Here are three takeaways:
Keyontae Johnson 'starts', Anthony Duruji returns
Florida senior forward Keyontae Johnson, who remains sidelined following his collapse on the court Dec. 12, 2020, at Florida State, made a ceremonial start in his final appearance in Gainesville.
Johnson, the SEC’s Preseason Player of the Year last season, wasn’t dressed out as the Gators went through warmups. But just prior to tipoff, Johnson went back to UF’s locker room with his teammates and changed into his No. 11 jersey.
"It felt great. I wanted to stay out here a little bit longer," Johnson said after the game. "It was my first time taking the court since my incident, so, it shows how much work I've put in, and that everybody cared and appreciated me."
A potential NBA draft pick prior to his collapse, Johnson is still attempting to get medically cleared and resume his basketball career. If Johnson is cleared to return at the next level, he can still collect on a $5 million insurance policy, which went into effect in July 2020, if he ultimately doesn’t make the NBA.
Johnson averaged 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds as a sophomore during the 2019-20 season, and he was expected to take another leap as an upperclassmen prior to suffering his season-ending incident four games into the 2020-21 season.
Following Johnson’s ceremonial start, the Gators saw forward Anthony Duruji return to the starting lineup.
Duruji had missed the previous two contests with an ankle injury, and White was uncertain at the conclusion of Friday’s practice session whether Duruji would be cleared to play against the Wildcats.
Duruji finished with 10 points and four rebounds in 24 minutes.
Quiet game for Tyree Appleby
Tyree Appleby played just seven minutes in Lexington due to a reaggravated thigh bruise, and the expectation was the senior guard would get considerable more run — and improved results — in Saturday’s midafternoon battle.
But Appleby, one of seven players pregame during Senior Day ceremonies, was largely a nonfactor against the Wildcats. He finished with six points in 26 minutes. The transfer from Cleveland State went 1-for-4 from the charity stripe.
White credited Kentucky's defensive game plan, saying the Wildcats had Florida's backcourt in fits throughout the contest.
"I thought they did a really good job on Tyree, on Myreon (Jones), on Phlandrous," White said. "They're a very good defensive team. Their backcourt is so good defensively."
Oscar Tshiebwe makes Player of the Year case
Tshiebwe continued to state his case for the Naismith Trophy, given to the best player in Division I basketball.
By the end of the first half, Tshiebwe already had a double-double, his 25th of the season. Across a stretch spanning two halves, the transfer from West Virginia had 17 of the Wildcats’ 19 points to help UK answer each of Florida's rally attempts.
"He's fantastic," White said of Tshiebwe. "His rim-running ability, I don't know that that's matched in college basketball."
Although Florida's effort on the defensive glass was noticeably improved from UF's 21-point loss to the Wildcats in Lexington, White believes there are still considerable improvements to be made.
"There were a couple one-handed, just soft efforts, that we've got to be a little bit tougher than that," White said. "That's the only way — we've got to have five guys scrapping on the defensive glass to have a chance."