Florida had a chance to put Kentucky away midway through the second half of its eventual 70-68 win.
But with the Gators up 55-42, momentum changed when Kentucky coach John Calipari switched to a 2-3 zone defense. Sound familiar? Auburn (coached by former Calipari assistant Tony Barbee) went to the zone for much of the second half and nearly pulled off an upset against the No. 17 ranked Gators. Florida, which struggled from outside most of the game, needed a pair of clutch 3-pointers from Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker to beat Auburn 45-40 in UF’s lowest scoring total in the 15-season Billy Donovan era.
After switching to zone, Kentucky went on a 17-3 run, taking a 59-58 lead on a Terrence Jones 3-pointer. But after Florida senior Chandler Parsons got a pair of key putbacks against the zone, Calipari went back to man defense.
Still, Donovan said he is not concerned about his team’s execution against zone defenses this season.
“I just think against zones that you are gonna have to make some shots,” Donovan said. “We played some zone against Kentucky and Doron Lamb knocked down a 3 (pointer) and (Brandon) Knight knocked down a 3. That’s what you got to do. We got pretty decent shots and didn’t knock them down. Part of the reason why teams are playing zone is to try to get you to shoot over the top.”
Florida ranks sixth in the SEC in 3-point shooting at 33.5 percent. Last season, with the same starting five, Florida finished 11th in the SEC in 3-point shooting accuracy at 31.3 percent.
Boynton and Walker had open looks against Kentucky’s zone, but went a combined 2-of-12 from 3-point range. When Florida tried to go inside against the zone, it resulted in turnovers from big men Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin.
“We got it twice inside to Vernon and he was double-teamed and one time he got the ball knocked out of his hands and it was stolen and the other time he got the ball over there,” Donovan said. “But you just aren’t going to be able to low post guys a lot in a 2-3 zone. Our perimeter guys are going to have to make some plays with extra passing. Could we have moved a little bit better or done some better things? Probably.”
Donovan said he was more disappointed that some of the offensive struggles during Kentucky’s run affected UF’s intensity on defense.
” We did a good job defensively but the bottom line was even during that little spell there we didn’t guard like we needed to guard at that point in time in the game,” Donovan said.
— Florida junior point guard Erving Walker has hit some big 3-pointers late in games for the Gators. That’s somewhat masked the fact that the 5-foot-8 Walker has been struggling from the perimeter of late. After going 1-for-9 from the field against Kentucky, Walker is shooting just 29.5 percent from the floor (23-78) and 20.5 percent from 3-point range (8-39) over his last six games.
Walker made up for his struggles from the floor against Kentucky by going 6-of-6 from the free-throw line. He also had five assists and two steals, including a big one late against Kentucky freshman point guard Brandon Knight. Walker stole the ball from Knight in the backcourt, then drove and was fouled. Walker made both free throws with 3:01 left to put Florida up 65-64.
“I thought he was really pretty good,” Donovan said of Walker’s effort against Kentucky. “I didn’t think he forced many shots. He only took nine shots. He really tried on defense. He had a huge steal that he got fouled on when we were down. He ran our team. I didn’t think he really got to a point where he was over-penetrating, trying to be too aggressive and make too many plays.”