Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
We inform. You decide.
Tuesday, February 27, 2024

UF coach Billy Donovan held his breath.

Just 11 seconds prior, this game was over. All the hype, the pressure, the mounting questions - they all seemed to be answered.

But with one call made then reversed and a desperate shot on a desperate night, Kentucky came back to life and gave the baby Gators their toughest gut check yet.

On Saturday night, the Gators (16-3, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) pulled out an 81-70 win in overtime, defeating the Wildcats (7-9, 1-2 SEC) for the seventh consecutive time, joining Notre Dame as the only schools to do so.

But don't let the score fool you. This one was far from easy.

In a stomach-churning twist at the end of regulation, one referee changed the other's call and Kentucky's Ramel Bradley hit a 3-pointer with just 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the score at 61, sending the game into overtime.

"That was crazy," said center Marreese Speights, who was involved in the play. "It was way off Pat (Patterson). It was just ESPN. They just wanted to make a good game."

With ESPN College GameDay watching and the nation tuning in, the Gators proved they might not be last year's team, but they're not too bad, either.

"I thought it showed great resiliency and toughness," Donovan said. "The makeup and character of these guys, the way they battled and fought. When [Kentucky] sent it into overtime, I'm sure people thought, 'How are these young guys going to respond?' and, 'Gosh, how devastating, how many times you see young guys' wills fall apart.'

"The fact that our guys were in that situation and responded like they did - I was really proud of them as a group and their competitiveness tonight."

Tied at 68 with 1:33 remaining in overtime, UF went on an 11-2 run defined by a Walter Hodge 3-pointer that served as the game's dagger and sent a raucous crowd of 12,222 into hysteria.

After missing four consecutive free throws in regulation to keep Kentucky alive, guard Nick Calathes made 10 straight in the end to put the Wildcats away for good.

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Alligator delivered to your inbox

Calathes led all scorers with 24 points to go along with eight rebounds and eight assists.

"This is my first game at Florida like this," Calathes said. "Now I know what they're talking about. This was a huge win for us. I missed four free throws in a row, and that should never happen. But I made them in the end, and that's what counts."

Calathes is the fifth-leading scorer in SEC play at 19.3 points per contest - first among freshman.

Speights, who has struggled in SEC play so far, scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds, matching a season-high 31 minutes. Against Alabama and Mississippi, Speights had just 10 points combined.

"I finally felt really good. I feel like this is my best game ever," he said. "I think this might be the game I really start playing better."

The game featured all the fanfare promised, including an appearance by a Heisman Trophy-wielding Tim Tebow, who addressed fans during halftime and apologized for the 9-4 season. Former Gators forward Al Horford was also in attendance and received a standing ovation when his name was announced.

Although neither team was ranked, the game still lived up to its billing. Eight lead changes, eight ties and two separate UF double-digit leads kept the largest crowd of the year on edge.

Near-UF player Patterson, who was heckled throughout the game, scored 15 points on just 5-of-14 shooting.

UF will now hit the road and gear up for South Carolina. The two teams square off Wednesday night at 8.

Support your local paper
Donate Today
The Independent Florida Alligator has been independent of the university since 1971, your donation today could help #SaveStudentNewsrooms. Please consider giving today.

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Independent Florida Alligator and Campus Communications, Inc.