LEXINGTON, Ky. – Senior point guard Chris Chiozza dealt with leg cramps all second half. An eight-point second-half lead evaporated in a sea of Big Blue magic.
Yet somehow, Florida stayed the course, showing just enough scrappiness on defense to escape with a 66-64 win over No. 18 Kentucky to earn a rare win at Rupp Arena.
The game came down to one last defensive stand, after senior forward Keith Stone missed the front end of a one-and-one with 19.9 seconds left. And the Gators delivered.
First, grad transfer Egor Koulechov blocked a drive by Kentucky freshman guard Quade Green with 6.6 seconds left. Then, off an in-bounds play, Florida guard Jalen Hudson blocked a P.J. Washington drive, to the ire of the crowd of more than 24,000 that felt there should have been a foul call.
Then, on the final in-bounds, Hudson and Chiozza combined for a steal of Kevin Knox, with Chiozza passing the ball upcourt as the clock expired.
“One would argue that we’re not as potent as we were offensively earlier in the year, and at times, people may be right,” Florida coach Mike White said. “But I know we’re a heckuva lot better defensively than we were in October, which gives us a chance.”
The SEC-leading Gators (14-5, 6-1 SEC) overcame shooting just 33.3 percent from the floor and 20 percent (6-30) from 3-point range to pick up their first win at Rupp Arena since 2014 and just their fourth win at Rupp since 1998.
“This is a huge accomplishment,” Chiozza said. “This is my fourth year and my first time winning. It’s something I wanted to do, go out in my last year on a high note. It’s one of the best gyms to play in and one of the hardest.”
Hudson led four UF scorers in double figures with 17 points. Stone added 14 points, Chiozza had 13 points and 8 assists and junior guard KeVaughn Allen chipped in with 11 points.
Florida held Kentucky to 40 percent from the floor and 23.5 percent (4-17) from 3-point range, while forcing 16 turnovers.
“I saw guys flying around, trying to make plays,” White said.
Offensively, Florida kept its composure late. Chiozza came up with another big shot, rattling home a 3-pointer with 3:29 left to put Florida up 58-56. After an inside basket by Washington tied the score at 58, the Gators went ahead for good when center Kevarrius Hayes scored an inside basket on an assist from Stone, putting the Gators up 60-58. After a Kentucky miss, Stone followed with another inside basket on a drive, extending UF’s lead to 62-58 with 2:02 remaining.
“We didn’t try to take home-run shots when we went down with one or two minutes and we stayed poised,” Hudson said. “We just wanted to take good shots and we knew if we weren’t going to win we were going to be happy with the outcome.”
When Allen hit a pair of free throws with 44 seconds to put the Gators up 64-58, Florida appeared in good position to close the game out. But Knox banked in a 3-pointer to cut UF’s lead to 64-61 with 34 seconds left. Then, after a pair of Hudson free throws put Florida up 66-61, Kentucky sophomore Weynen Gabriel hit a corner 3-pointer to cut UF’s lead to 66-64.
But the Wildcats (14-5, 4-3) were unable to come all the way back and suffered their second straight loss and first loss of the season at Rupp.
“We’re going to be fine now,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “What I saw today was that we held one of the best offensive teams in the country to 33 percent and 20 percent from 3-point range. We didn’t come up with some loose balls. We didn’t understand the importance of it.”
Stone scored UF’s first eight points on a pair of 3-pointers and an inside basket, giving the Gators an 8-6 lead. But Gabriel gave the Gators some problems inside, scoring seven straight points to give the Wildcats a 15-13 lead.
A driving layup by Chiozza cut Kentucky’s lead to 21-20, but the Wildcats responded with a 7-0 run that included a bank shot high off the backboard by Jared Vanderbilt, a transition basket by Green and a three-point play from sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones.
Chiozza brought the Gators back, sparking a 9-0 run to put the Gators back up 29-28. It began with inside basket for the six-foot point guard from Memphis, then continued when Chiozza found Hayes for an inside dunk to cut UK’s lead to 28-24. Chiozza found Hayes again for an alley-oop dunk to cut Kentucky’s lead to 28-27, the put Florida up 29-28 with a pair of free throws.
The Gators took a 33-31 lead into halftime when Allen hit a driving basket in the lane with six seconds remaining. The Gators overcame shooting just 34.4 percent from the field and 3-13 from 3-point range in the first half by holding Kentucky to 40.6 percent from the field and 0-6 from 3-point range.
Florida extended its lead to 45-37 with 15:39 left in the second half on back-to-back 3-pointers from Hudson and Allen, prompting Calipari to call a timeout. That’s when the Wildcats started their comeback, going on a 6-0 run to cut UF’s lead to 45-43 on an inside dunk from Killeya-Jones.
After missing its first eight 3-point attempts, Kentucky made its first on a corner 3-pointer from Hamidou Diallo, to cut UF’s lead to 51-50.The Wildcats regained the lead 53-51 on a drive by point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and went ahead 56-53 on a Gilgeous-Alexander 3-pointer.
Gilgeous-Alexander and Gabriel led Kentucky with 10 points apiece.
|FLORIDA 66, No. 18 KENTUCKY 64|
Stone 5-9 2-3 14, Hayes 4-6 1-6 9, Allen 4-16 2-2 11, Koulechov 0-8 2-2 2, Chiozza 5-11 2-2 13, Bassett 0-1 0-0 0, Hudson 4-13 7-10 17, Ballard 0-2 0-0 0, Okauru 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-66 16-25 66.
Washington 3-10 0-0 6, Richards 2-3 4-6 8, Knox 4-10 0-0 9, Diallo 3-8 1-2 8, Gilgeous-Alexander 4-12 1-2 10, Killeya-Jones 3-3 1-1 7, Gabriel 4-6 1-1 10, Vanderbilt 2-5 0-0 4, Green 1-8 0-0 2. Totals 26-65 8-12 64.
Halftime_Florida 33-31. 3-Point Goals_Florida 6-30 (Stone 2-4, Hudson 2-8, Chiozza 1-5, Allen 1-7, Ballard 0-1, Koulechov 0-5), Kentucky 4-17 (Gilgeous-Alexander 1-1, Gabriel 1-3, Diallo 1-4, Knox 1-4, Washington 0-1, Green 0-4). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Florida 33 (Hayes, Koulechov 9), Kentucky 46 (Richards 9). Assists_Florida 12 (Chiozza 8), Kentucky 13 (Gilgeous-Alexander 6). Total Fouls_Florida 14, Kentucky 17.