Gators scrap to upset win at No. 18 Kentucky

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Florida's Kevarrius Hayes has benefitted from Al Pinkins coaching. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

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
FLORIDA (14-5)

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.

KENTUCKY (14-5)

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.

20 COMMENTS

  1. No home cooking with the refs at Rupp tonight. Florida had very favorable calls. Can’t complain about the refs this time. Terrible shot selection by the Gators. We just don’t make contested threes. Great gritty win. But Kentucky just isn’t very good this year. They are #18 and falling for good reason.

    • Agreed about the refs. The calls were much more balanced this year. This year’s crew is much better than last year’s crew at Rupp. Last year’s crew would have had all the UF players in foul trouble. They most certainly would have call a foul against UF in the closing seconds. Kudos to the SEC for fixing an obvious problem in officiating from last year.

      Coach White has gotten the players to play defense, especially when the shot aren’t falling. Great job Coach!

  2. That was a road game to remember for the Gators in this fabled series. As a senior Gator, I love to see experience and treachery overcome youth and talent on the hardwood. We got a couple key breaks at the end of the game to preserve this win.

    Cal looked like more like a babysitter than a championship coach in Lexington tonight.

    Coach White showed why he was the SEC COY last season, working every possible angle to get the win at Rupp.

  3. Impressive road win. The Gators won on the road against Kentucky. One of the most difficult places to play and win on the road. They did it missing 4 players. They did it not playing their best. They missed way to many 3’s, Probably took too many as well. Should have gone inside more. Also missed a lot of free throws and some easy shots around the basket. They also gave up a lot of easy baskets in the paint. Having said all that they still found a way to win. Things will only get better for the team. Go Gators.

  4. You’re not suppose to win when you shoot 33% from the field, go 6-30 from beyond the arc, and get outrebounded, but somehow lady luck was on the Gators side, not your typical dominant Kentucky team.

  5. What a game!!!! So tough to get a win there but happy the team could help give that win to Cheese! Never gave up and just kept fighting. They have something special going for them and it begins with coaching! Go GATORS!

  6. Some how a pure 3 shooting UK manages to make TWO 3s at the end to make it too close. Congratulations to UF for stuffing them the last 20 seconds for a tough road win. Some of our 3s attempts were too far and quick. Overall a fine effort and a “jellying team”.

  7. The Gators shoot too many 3 pointers, especially when they have a good lead. They should slow the game down and go inside- that being said, you see how good K Hayes can be inside offensively but somehow it took coach a long time too figure that out.

  8. Great win at Rupp. We don’t get a chance to say that often. Would like to see Koul, Kevaughn, and Cheese get to the line more often. They so deadly there. A calmness comes over me when they step to the line. Purple Hayes needs to practice his foul shooting but he has really come on in other ways since Christmas. Yes Joel, that one handed slam by Purp was a thing of beauty. Really happy to be a Gator today. Got a little bounce in my step. Oh and Stone’s development has been awesome.

  9. There are ALWAYS some Negative Gators on this site. Even when the Gators win they are critical of the coach, players or the refs. If they know that much about basketball, they should be coaching an NCAA team or be on the court as a ref. Just enjoy the win. Gators have lost plenty of games where they played better than their opponent, but failed to get more points than the opponent. The good news is Hayes is developing and Egbunu is due back by the end of January.

  10. At times, the Gators probably do rely too much on the 3, but a team that shoots almost 40% from deep is gonna have the green light at all times. Slowing the pace with a lead is primarily what cost them the Duke game. This team can’t just dump the ball inside, because nobody, including Hayes, has any sort of post-up game. Hayes can be effective taking passes from driving guards or cleaning up on the offensive glass, but he can’t create his own shot with good post moves. The Gators were able to score in the paint, because Chiozza, Allen, Hudson, and Stone, were all fairly effective at taking the ball to the rim and finishing or dishing. They found a way to win at Rupp when the 3’s weren’t falling. Gritty win. Go Gators!