Gators can’t hold off Wildcats, fall 65-54

Florida senior guard KeVaughn Allen puts up a shot Saturday against Kentucky at Exactech Arena. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

The place was rocking and the Florida basketball team was knocking on the door of a signature win with the just over 13 minutes to play Saturday.

Instead, the Gators were kicked off the porch in an all-too-familiar way.

Florida’s offense went into a deep freeze and No. 7 Kentucky heated up. The combination allowed the Wildcats to win their eighth straight game 65-54 in front of a sold-out crowd at Exactech Arena.

“We got a little stagnant,” said senior Kevarrius Hayes. “Weren’t as aggressive. Maybe just wanting the game to get over.”

That’s a familiar theme to so many Florida losses in this year of blown  leads. The Gators couldn’t finish again and fell to 12-9 and 4-4 in the SEC. Florida has lost four games at home this season.

“It’s tough,” said Florida coach Mike White. “For 30 minutes, we played well enough to beat a terrific team. We just couldn’t hold on.”

Florida held Kentucky scoreless for a 6:07 stretch early in the second half and led 42-31 with Hayes at the line for two shots. But he missed both and things began to unravel for Florida.

“I don’t think that was the turning point,” Hayes said, “We still looked up at the clock with 10 minutes to go and had the lead.”

Yes, but it had been reduced because the Gators had their own scoring drought, one that lasted 4:45 without a point as Kentucky pulled to within 42-41.

“They played great defensively in the second half,” said Florida’s Andrew Nembhard.

The Wildcats (18-3, 7-1) began switching more defensively, taking away Florida’s 3-point shooting while still be long enough to affect drives to the basket. Florida managed to get the lead back to five at 48-43 with 7:12 to play, but scored only six points the rest of the game.

In the final seven minutes, Florida went 3-for-14 shooting and 0-for-5 from the 3-point line.

“What’s amazing to me is they only got off 19 3-point shots in the game,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari. “They average 30.”

And when Florida went cold, Kentucky was able to use its size advantage and the hot-shooting of freshman Tyler Herro to take over the game.

Herro needed only eight shots to score a game-high 19 points and PJ Washington had 15 points and 12 rebounds as Kentucky shot 50 percent from the field in the second half, even with a 1-for-7 start.

“Our defense failed us in this one probably as much as it has in any of our losses,” White said. “A majority of our shots were contested and it affected our defensive energy a little bit.”

It also affected the scoreboard. Florida only scored 12 points in the last 13-plus minutes of the game.

“We had a couple of very long dry spells,” White said. “It felt like we couldn’t score for a couple of days there.”

Nembhard led Florida with 12 points, all but two of them in the first half. KeVaughn Allen, the hero of Wednesday night’s overtime win, scored 11 points, but needed 15 shots and never went to the free throw line. Jalen Hudson showed signs of life with 11 points and four rebounds.

But in the end, an opportunity to get the biggest win of the season slipped away like so many others have this season.

“It’s deflating,” White said.

The Gators next play at Auburn on Tuesday night, the first of two straight road games.

NOTES: Florida used Saturday’s game as an opportunity to show off a little. In the pregame, the Gators 2018 SEC baseball champions were honored, firing T-shirts into the crowd. During one first-half break, UF gold medal swimmer Caeleb Dressel was brought on the court to be honored for numerous awards, including NCAA athlete of the year. And at halftime, members of the UF football team were brought on the court along with coach Dan Mullen. QB Feleipe Franks was presented with the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl offensive MVP and defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson the defensive MVP. Florida was again presented with the winning trophy … Also in the crowd and getting a rousing hand when he was introduced after a video montage — Gator great Chandler Parsons … Gator basketball signee Scottie Lewis was introduced in the stands late in the first half … Kevarrius Hayes passed Al Horford to become the second best in UF history with blocked shots. Dwayne Schintzius is No. 1.

Washington 6-13 3-5 15, Kel.Johnson 4-13 0-0 10, Travis 3-5 0-0 6, Herro 6-8 4-4 19, Hagans 2-5 2-2 6, Montgomery 0-0 0-0 0, Richards 0-0 0-0 0, Quickley 1-6 4-5 7, Baker 1-6 0-0 2. Totals 23-56 13-16 65.

FLORIDA (12-9)

Key.Johnson 3-7 2-2 8, Hayes 2-5 0-2 4, Allen 5-15 0-0 11, Nembhard 5-11 0-0 12, Locke 2-12 0-0 6, Stokes 0-0 0-0 0, Bassett 0-0 0-0 0, Okauru 0-0 0-0 0, Ballard 1-5 0-0 2, Hudson 4-8 3-6 11. Totals 22-63 5-10 54.

Halftime_Florida 33-29. 3-Point Goals_Kentucky 6-21 (Herro 3-4, Kel.Johnson 2-5, Quickley 1-5, Washington 0-1, Hagans 0-2, Baker 0-4), Florida 5-19 (Nembhard 2-4, Locke 2-7, Allen 1-7, Key.Johnson 0-1). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Kentucky 42 (Washington 12), Florida 32 (Key.Johnson 10). Assists_Kentucky 13 (Hagans 4), Florida 7 (Nembhard 3). Total Fouls_Kentucky 12, Florida 15.


  1. My buddy in Tallahassee called at half and said we were up and playing good D. I told him that is what we have been doing all year but in the second half we can’t make free throws and our offense seems to disappear. I can’t say I didn’t think we had a chance being up by 11 but I was also thinking we will fold down the stretch. I just don’t think we have the players this year to compete. CMW hasn’t done a great job this year that’s for sure but our players are just not that good compared to other teams. No big men and no real leadership on the floor leads to jump shots that look off balanced and rushed. I really can’t wait for next season to get here and that’s no joke….Go Gators!

  2. No longer sure Mike White will continue the Billy Donovan basketball tradition at UF. With 13 minutes left, UF is up by 11. But every phase of the game suddenly disappears. That’s a lack of coaching. The season is over for the Gators. No big dance this year. How much longer do we wait?

  3. Observations:
    1) Another second half meltdown due to lack of size inside.
    2) There was no offensive scheme to get our best shooter (Allen) open looks in the second half.
    3) Hayes played his heart out, as he has all season with not size to help.
    4) I like the game plan for Hudson. He was effective driving to the hoop.
    5) The two free throws given to Herro after the blocking call on Bassett was pathetic.

  4. Very good defense but horrible offense. What the heck happened to that “offense” in the second half? We need a new coach or better players that can play without too much coaching. Coach White seems to try hard but his player just do not respond to him.

  5. Coach makes a mockery of college basketball with his one and done players every year.
    CMW needs to get inside players that can hold up for the season.Hayes is doing a great job but doesn’t like to shoot or has no inside help. You can see the
    guards congregate around the three point line. There is little drives to the basket. If
    you are not hitting the 3 ball you are done.

  6. Consistent horrible offense. White is a defensive minded coach but is clueless when it comes to offense. Many of our shots were ill advised and essentially desperation shots. I predict a losing season. O well…

  7. Developing big men and recruiting them is not something this coach does well. Can’t see how he has more than 2 years to show that he can do it. If playing 5 guards was a path to victory, everybody would be doing it. Probably the only thing that is giving him job security is the current recruiting class which is short player heavy again. Development in general seems to be an issue.

  8. totally unrelated to this game, but did anybody see the final of Vtech vs NCState??? Final score in regulation between two ranked teams 47-24. not a football game. if you thought Florida’s offense was struggling, it gives a little perspective. NCState from 3 pt range 2-28.

  9. Everybody blames Coach White for having no offense the last few minutes of the game. My thoughts are players win or lose the last few minutes of the game. Coach White had our players in position to win for the first 30 minutes of the game, I doubt he forgot how to coach at that point.

    • Sparky…Thanks for a reasonable comment. The Gators have been hurt by injuries and an untimely transfer which has nothing to do with recruiting or coaching. UF gave Kentucky a respectable fight even though they were outmanned in the front court. They obviously got tired in the second half and it showed on defense. Win or lose, I for one admire a team that handles adversity by playing hard with all they have, and that is what most of the players on thiis team have been doing. A lot of Allen’s three point shots looked good but bounched out. It was hard for him to get an open shot. Kentucky was focused on guarding the perimeter. Florida can’t manufacture an inside game without more bigs.

  10. Long, tall, and athletic teams bother us. We just don’t have the height to compete against these type of teams and there is no help on the horizon. It’s not that our offense shuts down and they are not playing well, it’s the lack of an inside game and rebounds to balance out our offense and the teams crank up the defense on us – especially on the outside. Ky has 6’5″ – 6’6″ guys on the perimeter playing defense and they can play tighter because we have little inside game and we lose leads and games. TN and FSU were similar losses. We have to recruit big men too!

  11. As a head coach, you want to trust a K Allen to be a vocal leader and consistent scorer, but he is not. Coming into the season, a head coach should have every expectation a J Hudson will average 15 -18 pts per game and hit free throws, but he doesn’t. Neither one of them can hold a candle to C Cheeze, who met and exceeded senior expectations and could carry the team, buzzer beat the Badgers, play great in big games. We have no big gamers on this team. Hudson reminds me of Steve Sax, the Dodger 2nd baseman who inexplicably couldn’t throw to 1st base one day, or pitchers who suddenly couldn’t hit the strike zone, even if they moved up 40 feet. K Hayes played his heart out, but he is no Horford or Haslem scoring in the paint. And I would find it hard to believe our three starting freshmen would play more the ten minutes each on this UK team. I don’t see a killer instinct in any of our guys, and Allen’s shot vs Ole Miss could more easily have been a miss and nobody would have been surprised. Whatever ails this team, I still expect CMW to have another year at the helm, and then we will know for sure if the problem lies with him and/or the players he recruits. Suffice it to say, this will wind up being one of the most dismal seasons since CBD made us a basketball power. And I can’t stand it when the announcers said the game would turn when Hayes missed those two free throws, but I can’t believe anyone who says they didn’t feel the air go out of this team then, just as the announcers felt it too. Oh, and one more vent: The “Gator fans” who sold Kentucky fans tickets to this game should be banned from campus for ever!

  12. Every time I see Nembhard slowly walking the ball up the court, my mind tells me it’s going to be another empty possession. I have no data to back it up but that’s what it seems like. Once he crosses half court, he dribbles some more seconds off the shot clock waiting for someone to break free to pass to. Why waste 1/3 to 1/2 of the shot clock doing unproductive things? There’s no energy on offense. I like to see him put pressure on the defense with some sense of urgency. He should push the ball up the court and run their offensive set immediately. Since Hayes is not much of an offensive threat, why not have him set up a high screen immediately? Why not mix it up with some double screens? Why are our small guards always looking to drive to the basket upon catching the ball. They usually end up dribbling some more seconds off the shot clock and then pass anyways. When they do drive to the basket, they are usually unsuccessful because their shots usually get altered in the lane. The only player that has had some success driving to the basket is Johnson. I do like that after Nembhard makes his first pass, he runs down low but he rarely gets fed down there. Why not? If the opposing guard follows him, he usually has a height advantage for a mismatch near the basket.

    • sly….your point are accurate and well taken. My guess is that CMW, like all of us, knows that his team can’t score enough so his strategy is to shorten the clock and hope his defense can pull out a win in a low scoring game. With UF up by 11 that strategy will not work against a good team. It’s the time you step on their throat and pile it on, not play not to lose.

  13. Sly (above) is right. The Gator ‘O’ is way too slow to set up. They burn the clock shot down, all the while, the other team knows that UF isn’t very good in the paint. The last time I was this frustrated with the Gator ‘O’ was back when Billy D had 2 small “water bugs” for guards, and all they did was drive into the trees and get lost. But at least they drove the ball up the court quickly. I hope UF beats Auburn, but it’ll be a tough and quick turn around. GO GATORS!

    • Being frustrated with this team means you had some sort of higher expectations, not sure what that could be, they’ve been mediocre at best all year, I haven’t seen anything in them with any consistency that makes me think they are tournament caliber, maybe next season.

      • Kevin, I’m not ”frustrated” due to ”high expectations” being disappointed. No, it’s that the Univ. of Florida can PLAY with U.T., U.K., etc… only to fall to them in the end. Whether it’s not having ”the killer instinct,” conditioning, or is it Coach White having a good game plan until a Rick Barnes or a John Calipari ”adjusts in the 2nd half,” and all Mike White can do is look frustratingly at his Asst. Coaches?
        I will concede that I don’t think Coach White presently has the bench to do much else right now. Next season will be the ”make or break” with regards to Coach White, and whether or not Mike White’s 2nd year run to the ”Elite 8” (with a majority of Billy D’s guys) was an anomaly or not. Go Gators!

        • And one other thing for the Gator Nation, ‘IF’ this continues from this U.F. Men’s Basketball coaching staff, disappointing loses to teams you ”coulda’, shoulda’ beat,” then how long does it take to ”…give Coach White the time to get his system and players in place?” Because next season is Coach White’s 5th year at U.F. And while I remember playing street ball with former Asst. U.F. Basketball Coach, Monte Towe, at Littlewood Elementary (the place to play, back in the day in Hogtown in the afternoons) after the Gator brass handed him and Coach Norm Sloan their ”walking papers” in the late 80’s, what is ”enough time”?!?! 7 years, 10 years, 15 years?!?!? Until he wins? Lastly, the good Lord could take me home today, and I was blessed to have witnessed ”5 Final Fours” for U.F. Men’s Basketball, and I’d be content (some schools NEVER see the ”promised land” for their favorite teams). But at some point Florida Men’s Basketball has to show some ”great improvement” under Coach Mike White and his staff. His present problem with lack of players may be excused by this season’s unforeseen injuries (and concussions again), and whatever else. But the question still remains, how much time does it take? Because U.T.’s Coach, Rick Barnes, in the same time frame has U.T. at the top of the college basketball world (with some good seniors, I get it, but STILL!).

  14. The thing I take away from this game was how unimpressed I am with Kentucky, just last week some talking head analyst from ESPN said they were one of the top 4 teams in the country, Duke, UVA, TN, Gonzaga and Michigan are the top teams, any of which would destroy KY, Duke already has.
    Gators only shot one less FG and 3 pointer than the Wildcats, it was again on the boards and FTs that Florida fell short. Had an opportunity to stretch the lead in the second half to 10-15 points, but cold shooting, bad decisions and lack of a killer instinct stood in the way, again.

  15. Another late game collapse and poor shooting doom the Gators. History keeps repeating itself but Coach White is oblivious. This team cannot win playing a half court offense. Coach needs to change the game plan.

    They need to play very up tempo. Run, run, run and gun. Push the ball up-court with shooters like KA and NL on the wings. If the Defense does not stop the ball take it to the basket (and finish) The bigs can trail the play and crash the boards for an offensive rebound or lag behind for defense to stop a fast break going the other way,

    • The offense needs constant motion, make the defense work, can’t just stand around the perimeter and pass the ball around, pick and rolls, baseline movement, dribble penetration, constant motion will cause lapses in the defense for easy scores or open 3s. Gotta block out a man on defense to prevent offensive rebounds, which is where the Gators have been getting killed, FT shooting too, gotta get to the line more, motion offense will help with that.

  16. Very exciting game until the last 5 min.
    Disapointing to not see Allen, Locke or Nembhard get to the line. Hudson had 6 free thows but only made half of them. The games have all been exciting and close except for FSU. We just don’t seem to have that killer instinct like we had when Chiozza was here. His play was infectious.