The Kentucky Wildcats beat the Florida Gators in Gainesville on Saturday afternoon by a score of 87-85.
It was a sloppy game to start for the Cats, but a back-and-forth affair ensued before the Gators seemingly couldn’t miss a shot. Turnovers and poor defense turned a tie game into an 11-point first-half lead for the Gators. Going into the break, Florida led 45-37.
In the second half, Kentucky briefly grabbed the lead before Florida scored eight straight points to take control again. Every time Kentucky seemed poised to take the lead, Florida had an answer and extended its lead.
Kentucky fought all game long and did not let Florida pull away. As often as the Gators answered, the Cats kept it close and clawed back, making all the big plays down the stretch, while Reed Sheppard was money from the free-throw line to put the game on ice.
Antonio Reeves led the way with 19 points. Right behind him was Sheppard with 14 points, five boards, and two dimes. DJ Wagner went for 14 points, three boards, and three assists.
Tre Mitchell added a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards.
Aaron Bradshaw scored all 10 of his points in the second half, including the go-ahead 3 in the final minutes that put Kentucky ahead for good.
This was an absolutely massive win for John Calipari’s squad.
Next up, the Cats will take on the Missouri Tigers in Lexington on Tuesday night.
Not sharing the basketball
What’s made Kentucky so good this year is its ability to share and protect the basketball. Whether it was the first true road game of the season or Florida’s just that good, they totally got away from that in this one, finishing the game with just six assists compared to nine turnovers.
The Cats didn’t have the best ball security. They did not rack up assists like they usually do. They scored well, but Florida’s length apparently created lots of problems for Kentucky.
Rob Dillingham, Kentucky’s spark plug off the bench, was especially bad, as he was out of control and unable to do much of anything. His reputation coming into UK was a wily guard who played more street ball-like than an organized basketball player. He’s been relatively reigned in this year and has played extremely well, but in this game, he looked to revert back to his AAU/Overtime Elite style of play.
Kentucky has to get back to its bread and butter, and this was a good learning experience that thankfully didn’t cost them in the end.
It is the best kind of learning experience.
Kentucky’s defensive woes continue
It’s no secret that the Cats have been a very poor defense team to this point in the season. They’re so good offensively, so it hasn’t mattered much, but it will become more important as the season goes along, especially in the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky can’t stop anyone from scoring, and the hope was that it’d get better with the return of the big men, but it just hasn’t. The perimeter defense is poor, and the off-ball defense is worse. Kentucky guys just get lost way too often and don’t know how to help without caving the entire defense.
Part of the issue is obviously the pace of play. Opponents get more possessions and more offensive flow seemingly equals less defensive energy. Another issue is rebounding. The Cats got out-rebounded by Illinois State last time out. The Redbirds grabbed 24 offensive rebounds, despite the 26-point win.
Florida is a great rebounding team, and second-chance opportunities allow lesser opponents more possessions and chances to score. Coupled with the pace of play, opponents are getting way more shots up at the rim than the Cats.
Kentucky’s best weapon is its ability to score in transition. Those opportunities are limited if the Cats aren’t hitting the defensive glass. A defensive rebound often leads to an outlet pass and a chance to score quickly. They simply have to be better.
It must be said that Adou Thiero’s presence has been missed as he’s been absent the last two games due to some sort of back soreness (spasms?). The Cats have missed his versatility, athleticism, and toughness.
Kentucky’s best player is Reed Sheppard. The freshmen are incredibly talented and help this team go, but veterans matter. Antonio Reeves and Tre Mitchell are indispensable to this basketball team.
It’s scary to think about where UK would be if Bob Huggins hadn’t been fired from West Virginia and Mitchell didn’t transfer in, or Reeves chose to transfer as was rumored throughout the offseason.
Both guys get buckets when Kentucky needs it. Reeves has become a true three-level scorer this season and has been invaluable. Mitchell, on the other hand, was a perfect fit for what this team does. Mitchell can shoot and take advantage of mismatches down low at the four position. He isn’t the biggest or the strongest, but he fights hard all game long.
Kentucky did not play particularly well. Florida controlled the vast majority of the game and had an answer any time Kentucky seemed to start putting it together. The Cats never gave up and pulled out a massive road win.
Now, let’s celebrate! Go CATS!!