The Florida Gators (20-3) entertained the rival Kentucky Wildcats (17-7) Tuesday night in the O’Connell center. While Florida has stayed at a constant rate of success in conference play (except for the disaster last week in Arkansas), the Kentucky Wildcats have underwhelmed to this point, and did so again in the 69-52 loss to the Gators.
While assumptions that they could be another freshman class that experienced plug and play success under head coach John Calapari may have been unfair, that is the reality of following in the footsteps of the last few years of Kentucky basketball. The underachieving Wildcats left Gainesville with a giant question mark over the rest of their season and the Gators exhibited their dominance over the rest of the conference yet again.
For Kentucky, the loss was one thing, but Kentucky’s season may be hanging in the balance after Nerlens Noel suffered a harrowing knee injury in the second half of tonight’s game.
Before his exit Noel was doing what he does. In 23 minutes of action Noel had eight points, six rebounds and three blocks living up to his billing as a dominant force inside. With Noel out of the picture for the last 8:03, however, Florida slashed through the lane and scored with ease finishing the game with 36 points in the paint. Noel makes up for many defensive breakdowns and his hustle is at the root of Kenucky’s success, without him, a group of Wildcats talented enough to make a late push to finally live up to their potential may be headed back to the uncertain side of the NCAA tournament bubble.
Even with Noel in the game, Florida’s suffocating defense tightened like a boa constrictor, the 3’s were falling in droves and the 12,480 in attendance just about blew the roof off of the building.
Florida shot 49.1% from the field, 42.9% from beyond the three point line (including 5-7 in the first half) and even nailed 78.6% of their free throws. The scoring balance was picture perfect, five Gators in double figures and Kenny Boynton on the cusp with nine points. Scottie Wilbekin lead all scorers with 14 points and contributed eight assists.
The Gators were also able to turn 17 Kentucky turnovers into 20 points, the capitalization off of those mistakes was key and something the Wildcats couldn’t do (only scoring five points off of eleven Gator turnovers).
Patric Young was a terror on the boards bringing down 11 rebounds, his second highest total all season. Young had four of the teams 12 offensive rebounds and his 12 points gave him his sixth double-double of the season.
Florida returns to play Saturday Feb. 16 against Auburn.
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