Florida basketball: Three takeaways from the Gators' 82-74 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Florida guard Kowacie Reeves (14) dunks against Kentucky during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Youngblood)

Florida showed fight Wednesday night in its second game without leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker Colin Castleton.

But the end result was the same as the Gators were unable to make enough plays and shots down the stretch in an 82-74 loss to Kentucky before an announced 9,540 at the O'Connell Center.

Florida (14-14, 7-8 SEC) cut Kentucky's lead to 74-72 on a pair of free throws from Kyle Lofton with 1:14 left. But Kentucky responded with a big three-point play on a putback offensive rebound by freshman forward Chris Livington with 47.1 seconds left to go back up 77-72.

Junior guard Niels Lane then missed a drive in the lane for Florida with 33 seconds left and the Wildcats were able to finish off the game by making five of their final six free throws.

Tough breakColin Castleton likely lost for season after breaking hand in Florida's win over Ole Miss

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Kentucky (19-9, 8-5 SEC) won its third straight behind forward Oscar Tshiebwe, who scored 25 points. The Gators rallied from down 15 points in the first half and 11 points in the second half.

"They were gritty as hell," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "I wish them luck. I'm glad we're not playing them anymore. If they play that way, you watch what happens."

Here are three takeaways from the Florida loss:

Freshman guard Riley Kugel scores a career-high 24 points

The 6-foot-5, 207-pound Kugel has become Florida's go-to scorer with Castleton out, reaching double figures for his fifth straight games. He scored 14 points in the first half, including back-to-back 3-pointers late in the first half to put the Gators up 37-36 at halftime.

Kugel went 7 of 12 from the floor, 4 of 6 from 3-point range and 6 of 7 from the foul line. He's averaged 19.2 points over his last five games.

"It doesn't really matter what I'm doing," Kugel said. "I could go out and score 5 points, I would be happy, if we were winning. So, and I know my teammates have always got my back, they want me to succeed, and I want everyone else to succeed."

Kugel also did the little things to help keep Florida in the game, including one steal and diving on the floor for a loose ball to force a tie-up. He said the game is slowing down for him.

"I'm starting to feel really comfortable in the game," Kugel said. "I feel like me getting to my spots is coming a little easier than it was before."

Gators bullied on the boards

Rebounding has been a season-long problem for Florida and it reared its ugly head again Wednesday. Florida was outrebounded 40-21, giving up 13 offensive rebounds and outscored 15-0 in second-chance points.

Jacob Tobbin had 11 rebounds for Kentucky and Livingston had 15 rebounds, including the big putback three-point play with 47 seconds left.

Florida, meanwhile, had no players with more than three rebounds.

"It's been an emphasis," Florida coach Todd Golden said of rebounding. "We talk about it a lot. Obviously, we lost one of the best rebounders in the country, so as we're re-inventing ourselves we need guys to step up and be a little more aggressive, a little more physical on the glass."

Niels Lane gives Florida a boost off the bench

Lane played a season-high 23 minutes and provided a lift off the bench for the Gators, finishing with 8 points, 2 rebounds and 1 steal. With Florida down 30-15, Lane checked in and helped spark a 13-0 run that got the Gators back into the game.

Lane was plus-1 in his 23 minutes on the floor.

"We needed Niels' athleticism, his competitiveness and his defense," Golden said. "We've been a real good defensive team all year and I thought our deficiencies was more on the offensive side. We needed to keep the floor spread and keep guys out there who could make shots, whereas now without Colin, obviously our defense goes down a decent amount."