John Calipari’s club rallies for SEC-opening win

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — On a day seemingly everything went Florida’s way, Kentucky found a way to win.

Freshman big Aaron Bradshaw’s 3-pointer swished through the net with 1:21 remaining, giving the No. 6 Wildcats a 79-76 lead. Then the visitors fended off the Gators’ last-minute efforts, escaping with an 87-85 victory in the SEC opener for both teams at the O’Connell Center.

“We won. We could have lost, and I’d be up here saying, ‘Hey, we’ll learn from it and move on,'” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “But that’s what we did. We didn’t come down here and bury ’em.”

The Wildcats (11-2, 1-0 SEC) entered Saturday worried about their rebounding. In their previous outing, a 96-70 home victory against Illinois State last week, the visitors grabbed 24 offensive rebounds and won the battle on the boards by five (45-40). The Gators (10-4, 0-1) represented a bigger challenge on multiple levels, as they boasted the top rebounding squad in Division I, averaging more than 45 per game. But the Wildcats more than held their own, grabbing just three fewer boards (43-40) than the hosts.

Kentucky's Justin Edwards drives to the basket while being defended by Florida's Zyon Pullin during the first half.

“That’s outrebounding them,” Calipari said with a smirk.

For all the focus on Florida’s rebounding prowess, however, the hosts didn’t batter Kentucky down low Saturday; the Wildcats actually had more points in the paint (40-36).

The Gators simply found some luck from distance. Florida sank an average of 7.6 3-pointers per game in its first 13 contests in 2023-24. The Gators surpassed that number by halftime, connecting on eight, which included Zyon Pullin’s logo heave as well as another try that banked in off the glass.  

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