(Twaney Beckham on Senior Day: Courtesy of Coachcal.com)
Everyone knew Kentucky's story coming into today, so there's nothing really to add. Florida came in as the regular season SEC Champions for the 6th time in the programs history, no to mention as the best team in the conference. It would prove to be another tough test for this struggling Kentucky team heading into the SEC Tournament, needless to say, Kentucky needed this win in more ways than one.
Kentucky started off the day with a put back basket by Alex Poythress off a miss by Willie Cauley-Stein. I can't say this enough, but the Cats will need more from Poythress. On Florida's first possession, Cauley-Stein rejected a shot under the basket which led to a breakaway dunk by Archie Goodwin forcing Donovan to call an early timeout as Kentucky took a 4-0 lead.
At the first media timeout, Kentucky led the Gators 11-2 and looked tremendously better than what they did in Athens. Early on Kentucky was executing it's offense to perfection, driving to the basket and finding the open man at the right times. On the other side, Florida was ice cold from three point range and when they were able to get inside, Cauley-Stein was there with 2 blocks already and looking for more. I would also like to thank CBS for showing the Noel injury footage again, just can't see that enough.
Jon Hood with a big block against Kenny Boynton, that's all that needs to be said.
As Kentucky cooled off (4:48 without a made basket) and Florida warmed up (9-0 run), the Cats' lead shrank to 11-9 with 12:58 to go until halftime. The good thing was Kentucky didn't look rattled like they have in past games when teams cut into their lead. Hopefully they understand the sense of urgency involved with every game from here on out.
When Willie Cauley-Stein went to the bench with two fouls at the 10:53 mark the Cats had a 4 point lead. At the 9:12 mark, Florida had tied it up with two straight drives to the basket as there was absolutely no one to stop them. Just as Kentucky had retaken a 19-16 lead, Ryan Harrow picked up his second foul with 7:08 left in the half on what you would say was a horrible call as Harrow went for an offensive rebound and got thrown to the ground by Patrick Young.
Kyle Wiltjer continued what seems like now a month long shooting streak. Every shot Kyle puts up, he does so with no confidence what so ever, that's something Kentucky can ill afford.
With 4:25 to go, Florida took it's first lead of the day on a Kenny Boynton 3 who caught fire midway through the half and not a single Cat could stop him. But Kentucky recovered quickly, cranked up their defense to match Florida's and found themselves with a 30-29 lead with 1:50 until halftime. It was good to see this team for once not wilt under the pressure that a team was trying to put on them. If only they could've done that earlier in the season.
Kentucky went to the break knotted up with Florida 31-31 after Archie Goodwin went 1-4 from the free-throw line in the last seconds of the half.
Polson: 4pts, 1reb, 1ast
Goodwin: 7pts, 2rebs,
Poythress: 5pts, 6rebs, 1ast
Mays: 8pts, 1reb, 1ast
Harrow: 7pts, 2rebs, 2asts
Cauley-Stein: 0pts, 3rebs,
Wiltjer: 0pts, 4rebs,
Kentucky shot 39% from the floor in the first half, Florida shot 42%
The Cats got out rebounded 21-19 and turned the ball over 4 times
Kentucky cannot afford to have Cauley-Stein or Kyle Wiltjer go scoreless at anytime, especially at the same time. Cauley-Stein's was mostly due to being hampered with foul trouble in the first half, but Wiltjer logged quite a few minutes and couldn't manage a single point. He has got to get his confidence back before the start of the SEC Tournament if Kentucky expects to have a good showing down in Nashville.
Kentucky began the second half with Willie Cauley-Stein just ripping the ball out of the hands of Patrick Young, that's what Kentucky missed badly when Stein went to the bench with foul trouble. The second half started just as the first did, four quick points (Harrow and Cauley-Stein) by the Cats forced an early timeout by the Gators. If the Cats had played anywhere close to what we seen today, a loss at Georgia or Arkansas would not have happened. These guys are good, the problem is they just don't know how good they are as a TEAM.
Enough cannot be said about the improvement of Cauley-Stein over the last couple of weeks, especially on the defensive end of things. With 17:47 to go in the game, Cauley-Stein had recorded his 4th block of the game in just 10 minutes of action. If he returns for his sophomore season, he could be really special to watch next season. The bad thing with him improving is he has risen in all the mock drafts and we know what happens when stock rises.
At the first media timeout, Kentucky had built a 40-34 lead thanks to the play of Ryan Harrow and Cauley-Stein. Aside from a put back tip by Poythress, Harrow and Stein had scored all of Kentucky's 9 pts in the second half and looked good doing it.
At the 11:46 mark, Florida had taken a 46-45 lead in the absence of Cauley-Stein who picked up two quick fouls sending him to the bench with a total of four. It's clear that Kentucky isn't the same team when a shot blocker isn't in the game, the reason for that is no one for Kentucky can stop dribble penetration and that has been a problem all season long.
With 7:28 to go in the game, Florida had built a 57-50 lead due to Kentucky continuously losing three point shooters in transition and poor decision making on the offensive end. Just when you think this team is starting to understand how to play together, they do things that make you cringe.
With 3:38 to go, Kentucky made a run of their own, came back and tied things up at 57 apiece. When these guys are giving the effort they look as good as anyone in the SEC. When they are just going through the motions, they look down right awful. The crowd done everything it could to will Kentucky to a win, this is the loudest Rupp has been since the Missouri game.
Kentucky got their biggest win of the season on Senior Day 61-57 over #11 Florida and it was only fitting that it was senior Julius Mays who iced the game with two free-throws with 9.3 seconds to go. If you didn't watch the last two minutes of this game, you missed probably the most exciting two minutes of a Kentucky game that we have seen all season. It wasn't the best Kentucky has played, but it was probably the hardest. They played with determination, effort and a will to win that had been missing the last couple of weeks. This game will be an excellent confidence booster heading into the SEC Tournament next week and no doubt helped their NCAA Tournament chances.
box-score and post game quotes to follow soon...