The Florida Gators lost in dramatic fashion to the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington, Kentucky, on Saturday. With both teams on win streaks and SEC supremacy in the balance, it came down to the wire.
In the closing seconds of regulation and after a horrid offensive performance from UF, the Wildcats were able to pull out the 65-59 victory thanks to Immanuel Quickley’s scorching hot hand.
Going into Rupp Arena, UF coach Mike White knew that he would need every able-bodied player if the Gators (17-10, 9-5) were going to have a chance to dethrone an SEC-best Kentucky (22-5, 12-2) team.
Specifically, Kerry Blackshear Jr.
The forward has gotten into foul trouble in the past and most recently in UF’s win against Arkansas on Tuesday when he only saw 12 minutes of action.
“We have to keep him on the floor,” White said at media availability on Friday. “We’re not as good with him out. We need him. We need him in a big way in Lexington. Somehow he has to avoid foul trouble.”
Someone should have told Scottie Lewis.
Lewis — a freshman guard known for his defense and athleticism — picked up his second foul of the game with less than four minutes played. He’d watch from the bench for the rest of the half.
Florida’s tandem of Blackshear Jr. and Keyontae Johnson would go on to shoulder the load for the underdog squad, however. The forwards combined for 20 points in the first half on 50 percent shooting.
Johnson — coming off a career-high 24 points against Arkansas — once again did everything for the Gators. Whether it was a putback layup, drawing a charge or running downhill for a trip to the charity stripe, the 6-foot-5 forward came to play.
While Johnson was getting down and dirty, Blackshear Jr. did his damage from behind the arc. He sank two three-pointers and headed to the locker room with a team-high 11 points.
Florida went into the half with the game tied up at 31 after guard Ques Glover sank a buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the half.
No. 10 Kentucky had a balanced attack as seven players scored in the first half, but none had more than seven points.
That is, until Quickley took over.
At 6-foot-3, the sophomore stood taller than anyone on the court in the second half. He hit three treys in a row for the Wildcats at one point to give his team a 45-44 lead.
Simultaneously, UF lost its offensive efficiency as the raucous Rupp Arena crowd drowned out any chance the Gators had of making a field goal. Florida would go on an almost seven-minute scoring drought, missing seven straight shot attempts until a Tre Mann three halted the dry spell with 6:54 to go in the game.
Still, after the drought and hot shooting from Quickley, UF was only down by six points.
Florida did enough to hang around and that’s when all chaos broke loose.
With 33 seconds to go, Mann hit a step back mid-range jumper to cut the deficit to just four and the Wildcats called a timeout. After multiple turnovers from both teams and intentional fouls, Quickley found himself at the charity stripe to sink what was his career-high 26th point in the win. He scored 22 points and hit all of his four three-pointers in the second half alone to get the Wildcats their fifth-straight victory.
Florida was unable to overcome its second half struggles — shooting just 11 of 27 from the field in the final half of regulation. The Gators sorely missed sharpshooter Noah Locke — who surely missed his jump shot more.
Locke, who came into the game shooting 45 percent from three-point range, was 0 for 5 from downtown and didn’t register a single point in the loss.
Follow Joseph on Twitter @JosephSalvador_ and contact him at [email protected]