Cats Run Out of Gas as Gators Prevail – By: Tyrus York – The excitement in Rupp Arena leading up to the tip of Saturday night’s national game of the week between the #3 Florida Gators (23-2, 12-0) and the #14 Kentucky Wildcats (19-6, 9-3) was off the charts. Not only was the GameDay crew from ESPN was in the house, but it seemed there were celebrities at every corner including several former UK players.
When the final attendance was tallied, it was the highest attended game of the season (24,425) and the 6th highest of all time in Rupp Arena history. But not only were there a lot of people there, they were loud.
Big Blue Nation ambassador Oscar Combs tweeted afterwards that Saturday night was the loudest he had ever heard Rupp Arena since its opening in 1976.
Despite all of the fanfare, the Wildcats would come up short against the Gators 69-59, positioning Florida in a virtual lock for the SEC regular season title and as one of the best teams in the nation.
The 10 point loss may look bad on the scoreboard but the Wildcats fought very hard in this game, leading throughout much of the game only to have it slip away in the end.
The reasons that led to the Gator victory were numerous (like a mystery technical foul called on the UK bench late in the game), but the most obvious was the fact that Kentucky simply could not score down the stretch. Florida, known as one of the best defensive teams in the conference quickly proved they were for real by shutting down Kentucky’s post presence late in the second half.
At the half, Julius Randle had 10 points and 6 rebounds and appeared to be on his way to a monster game, but Florida was able to lock down the future lottery pick in the second half holding him to only 3 points.
Willie Cauley-Stein had his moments in the game, but ultimately proved to be another non-factor against the stronger Gators, finishing the game with only 2 points and 2 rebounds.
As for the rest of the big guys Dakari Johnson played well early in the first half before being saddled with foul trouble. He would also finish with 2 points and 2 rebounds. Alex Poythress was held scoreless and managed to only collect 2 rebounds.
Florida outscored the Wildcats 34-22 in the paint despite losing the rebounding battle 31-28.
The lack of Kentucky production in the paint left the back court in charge of figuring out ways to score. Andrew Harrison put forth a solid effort and was the Cats’ leading scorer with 20 points. James Young hit several big shots in this game on his way to scoring 19 points of his own.
The only other player to score for Kentucky was Aaron Harrison who contributed 3 points on only 1-7 shooting. Only 6 Wildcats managed to find the scoring column with 3 of those players recording 3 points or less.
A positive sign for Kentucky was that their defense didn’t allow much more from the Gators. Only 6 Gators would score and only 3 would be in double digits. In fact Kentucky held Florida to 44% shooting for the game while they shot 47.6% themselves.
Kentucky was in the driver’s seat for most of the game, but unlike previous trips to Rupp Arena these Florida Gators stayed calm and executed down the stretch while the young Wildcats made one too many mistakes.
Kentucky will now have to go on the road to face an Ole Miss team on Tuesday that will no doubt be seeking revenge for their loss in Rupp on February 4th. That game will tip off in Oxford at 7pm.