With all of college basketball eyes on Rupp Arena, the Florida Gators (14-5 6-1 SEC) grabbed a hold of first place in the SEC by beating the Kentucky Wildcats 66-64 on Saturday night in Lexington. The Gators, who had four players in double digits, survived late second attempts by the Wildcats (14-5 4-3 SEC) to tie the score at the end of the game.
The game started with both teams getting their first two baskets from one player on each team, as Gators Forward Keith Stone, who came into the game averaging eight points per game, hit back to back three pointers. Stone added a layup & scored the Gators first eight points, meanwhile Kentucky Forward Kevin Knox hit two jumpers to score the Wildcats first four points of the game.
After Guard KeVaugh Allen hit a jumper, which gave the Gators a 10-8 lead, Kentucky took their first lead of the game after reserve Forward Wenyen Gabriel scored seven straight points for the Wildcats. The Wildcats maintained a single digit lead up until there were two minutes left in the first half. And the Wilcats lead got as high as eight but the Gators, with the help of two dunks by Forward Kevarrius Hayes, scored seven straight points to cut the Wildcats lead to one.
The Gators 7-0 run was followed by a scoreless minute that included the Wildcats turning the ball over & going cold from the floor. That allowed the Gators to take the lead back 29-28 after two free throws from Guard Chris Chiozza. And those Chiozza free throws & Hayes baskets were part of the 13-3 run the Gators put together to end the half & grab a 33-31 lead after 20 minutes.
Neither team shot particularly well in the first half, with Florida shooting 34% while Kentucky, who went the final five minutes of the half without a field goal, shot slightly better hitting 39% of their shots. But Kentucky Foward Nick Richards ended the Wildcats hoop drought with a dunk to start the second half. And the Wildcats added another hoop from Guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, which tied the score at 35. Then Stone scored his first basket since the opening minutes of the game & Chiozza chipped in a layup. Plus Guard Jalen Hudson & Allen each hit three pointers to spark a 10-2 Gator run that gave Florida an eight point lead.
A 30 second timeout by Kentucky followed the Allen three pointer & out of that timeout, the Wildcats got three straight hoops while Florida went scoreless cutting the Gators lead to two. And with the score 45-43,the teams traded baskets up until there were less than eight minutes left in the second half.
A Kentucky free throw tied the score at 51, but the Wildcats took their first lead in the second half after Alexander hit a layup. And on the next Kentucky possession, Alexander hit a three pointer making it 56-53 & a Kentucky three point lead.
Trailing by one point, after their own 30 second timeout, the Gators took a two point lead when Chiozza rattled home a three ponter with just over three minutes left in the second half. And the lead jumped to four after Stone hit a layup at the two minute mark.
The Wildcats missed three point shots on their next two possessions & the Gators lead went to six after Allen hit two free throws. But Knox banked in a three pointer, making the deficit three & after Hudson, who led all scorers with 17 points, hit two free throws, the Wildcats got a corner three pointer from Gabriel, making it a 66-64 game with less than 30 seconds left in the game. And after Stone missed the front end of a one & one, Kentucky had multiple attempts around the hoop to tie the game but were unable to score the game-tying basket. And the game ended with Chiozza stealing the ball & throwing it down to the other end of the court.
The Gators will look for their third straight win overall & another SEC win when they host South Carolina on Wednesday night 7pm.