LEXINGTON, Ky. — If anyone is going to take down No. 1-ranked Kentucky this season, it will have to be on a night when a team plays its finest game of the season and the ravine-deep Wildcats play far less than their best.
Tuesday night was not that night, and the Florida Gators were not that team.
Kentucky shot high percentages from in close and deep, and their plastic-man defenders forced the eighth-ranked Gators into their worst offensive night of the season in a 78-58 defeat before a national-TV audience and sold-out Rupp Arena packed with 24,389 screaming Big Blue maniacs.
Article continues below ...
Sophomore guard Doron Lamb scored 18 points, hitting 4-for-5 from 3-point range, to key his team’s 52.7-percent hand from the floor and 60 percent from the arc. Freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 13 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, and classmate Marquis Teague carded 12 points and 10 assists, as the Wildcats (24-1, 10-0) won their 16th straight game to extend the nation’s longest home winning streak to 49.
Kentucky has now won 15 of its games this season by at least 20 points, including the last four Southeastern Conference games by a combined 103.
“It’s fun winning by 20. We enjoy this,” Teague said. “We want to go out and beat everybody by as many as possible.”
Wildcats coach John Calipari wasn’t quite so brash.
“We played pretty good,” UK coach John Calipari said.
The Gators (19-5, 7-2), meanwhile, lost for the first time in eight games, thanks to an uncharacteristic offensive display. UF shot season lows of 34.9 percent from the floor and 22.2 percent from deep. That latter figure (courtesy of 6-for-27 marksmanship) could easily have looked worse had junior guard Kenny Boynton (18 points) not heated up late.
Tuesday night it didn’t matter.
“Certainly, shooting the basketball well on the road always helps,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “And we didn’t shoot it well.”
“We had open looks,” freshman swingman Bradley Beal said. “We just weren’t making them.”
Florida had been struggling of late collectively from the 3-point line, but managed to overcome its long-distance shooting woes with good defense and solid execution in the half court in those previous games.
None of those games involved the Wildcats, however.
“I think Kentucky clearly has six guys who are going to be first-round draft picks,” Donovan said.
One of them, 6-foot-10 freshman center Anthony Davis, already is projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA’s lottery in June by most. Davis scored 16 points, grabbed six rebounds, blocked four shots, had two steals, six dunks, and was one long and lanky deterrent when it came to working inside.
“They’re not very tall,” Davis said afterward.
UF’s 6-9, 255-pound center Patric Young had 12 points, four rebounds and worked hard in the post to occupy Davis, but what wasn’t available down low meant the Gators had to look outside.
They found next to nothing.
“I think we took some tough shots, but I think they did a great job overall defensively on us,” Boynton said.
The UF players and coach, however, thought UK was only part of the problem. The Gators never got into a flow, evidenced by senior point guard Erving Walker’s final stat line: 0-7 from the floor, 0-for-4 from the arc, one assist, two turnovers and no points for the first time since Dec. 30, 2008.
“I don’t know if we necessarily attacked their defense great, as far as with a high level of intelligence there,” Donovan said. “But it was probably a combination of our defense and we missed some shots.”
Florida scored the first six points of the game, while Kentucky started 0-for-7 from the floor. Those trends did not last.
The game was tied at 17 when the Wildcats went on a 10-2 run to open an eight-point lead, then drowned the Gators with a pair of 3-pointers from Lamb in the final 43 seconds — the second at the halftime buzzer — to take a 38-26 lead into intermission.
Young opened the second half with back-to-back buckets to make it an eight-point lead, but after Calipari called a timeout, Teague made a three, then Miller another, and UK took off on one of those rowdy Rupp runs — an 11-0 blitz — that opened a 19-point lead and blew the roof off the place.
It was over.
“Listen, they’re very, very good,” Donovan said. “There’s not like one thing you necessarily can do against them.”
More teams will find that out in the coming weeks. Maybe even into April.
In the interim, though, the Gators will go back to work. There’s no shame in being the latest in a line of pounded opponents by the best team in the country. Besides, Kentucky has to come to Gainesville for the regular-season finale March 4. Hey, it’s something.
“The reality of it, Florida is a good team. They’re a really good team that just didn’t shoot the ball well tonight,” Calipari said. “Now we’re going to go down there and they’ll probably make 20 out of 30, and we’ll go home with our tails between our leg.”
Now, there’s a vision. For now, at least, that’s all it is.