The Kentucky men’s basketball team had two opportunities to tie the score in the final moments of the game.
Both times, Florida’s guards stepped up with key defensive plays.
Florida guard Chris Chiozza dashed toward the basket, zipping through a scattered Arkansas d…
Graduate transfer Egor Koulechov blocked a Quade Green shot on the left side of the rim with seven seconds left in the contest.
Redshirt junior Jalen Hudson did the same for UF five seconds later, rejecting a final attempt from freshman forward PJ Washington with both of his hands.
Clutch defensive play and free throws down the stretch secured a 66-64 win for the Gators on Saturday night against the No. 18 Wildcats at Rupp Arena.
“I think our experience in the last two minutes really helped us,” Hudson said. “We were just so much more poised than they were.”
A game-high 17 points from Hudson paced Florida’s offense. Sophomore forward Keith Stone scored 14 points, including the team’s first eight, while senior point guard Chris Chiozza added 13 points and eight assists.
Florida (14-5, 6-1 SEC) matched Kentucky’s offensive runs consistently in the first half.
Both teams forced its counterpart into quiet offensive stretches, but couldn’t capitalize with short spurts of scoring.
With UF down 21-20 with 8:27 left in the first half, the Wildcats (14-5, 4-3) went on a 7-0 run to create the largest lead for either side off three layups and a free throw.
Florida responded with eight straight points of its own, including four points from forward Kevarrius Hayes on a layup and lob from Chiozza.
Overall, Florida couldn’t find an offensive rhythm in opening frame. It shot 34.4 percent from the floor, including 3-13 from long range.
The Gators’ lack of depth in the frontcourt — with big men John Egbunu, Gorjok Gak, Chase Johnson and Isaiah Stokes all out with injuries — showcased itself as well.
Kentucky scored 22 points in the paint in the game’s first 20 minutes. The most recent injury to Gak, who was out with a concussion, put even more pressure on Florida wing players to muscle themselves into the lane for rebounds.
“That’s kind of the norm for us right now,” Hudson said. “They were still getting rebounds over the top of our heads, and we were just battling.”
Despite the struggles, the Gators went into the half with a 33-31 lead off a floater from guard KeVaughn Allen with eight seconds left.
Florida came out of the intermission firing from long range. Allen and Hudson split a pair of threes to give Florida a 45-37 edge with 15:37 left in the game.
The Wildcats took over 10 minutes later when freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drained a shot from beyond the arc to give his team a 56-53 lead.
The Gators immediately responded, however, going on an 11-2 run led by Stone. The forward scored four points during the stretch and dished a nice pass inside the lane for Hayes that gave Florida the game’s final lead.
A pair of three-pointers kept the Wildcats in the game down the stretch, but Hudson and Allen each hit a pair of shots at the charity stripe to seal Florida’s second victory in its last three meetings with Kentucky, as well as its first win in Rupp Arena since 2014.
The Gators defeated the Wildcats despite only knocking down 6-of-30 shots from beyond the arc, a stark contrast from the SEC-leading 39.7 three-point shooting percentage they carried into the weekend.
“We tend to struggle a little bit in certain games when we don’t hit shots,” Chiozza said. “But we’ve shown some games when we don’t hit shots, we do a good job of being tough… and finding ways to win.”
A video posted to FloridaGators.com contributed to this report.