Florida nearly punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth-straight year on Saturday at Kentucky.
The opportunity was there for the Gators to add a signature road win to their resume, ease their nerves on Selection Sunday and win their fourth game in a row. But UF came up short against Kentucky, which maintained their position atop the SEC with a 65-59 win.
Forward Keyontae Johnson continued the tear he’s been on with a near double-double effort against UK. The sophomore put up 19 points and nine rebounds in the loss. Johnson is averaging 16.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in February on a scorching 54 percent shooting clip.
Kerry Blackshear Jr. turned in his best performance since the win against Auburn on Jan. 18. He scored 18 points, his highest total in seven weeks, and grabbed six boards.
The problem for Florida was that its other three starters combined for just six points.
The backcourt duo of Noah Locke and Andrew Nembhard faltered at the worst possible time for the Gators. Locke had hit 14 threes on 22 tries in his previous three games but went 0 for 5 in Lexington, Kentucky. He finished with zeroes across the box score aside from two fouls and a turnover in 23 minutes of play.
Nembhard didn’t fare much better in the scoring department, finishing with just four points, his second-lowest output of the season. He did, however, notch six rebounds and six assists.
Tre Mann was the beneficiary of Locke’s off night, matching his career-high with 13 points in 29 minutes of play. The freshman guard provided the outside shooting spark that was missing from the UF offense by connecting on a trio of three-pointers.
In the end, Immanuel Quickley’s career night proved to be too much for Florida to overcome. The loss to Kentucky continued the Gators’ road struggles this season as UF fell to 3-6 on the road.
There are two remaining road games on the schedule for Florida: a matchup Saturday at Tennessee and a March 4 bout at Georgia.
At home, the Gators play LSU on Wednesday night and Kentucky on March 7 to close the regular season. UF lost to both teams on the road by a combined eight points.
ESPN’s latest Bracketology from Feb. 21 has Florida projected as a No. 9 seed playing Illinois in the first round. The Kentucky and LSU games present opportunities to improve on its potential seeding, and both teams are currently ahead of the Gators in the SEC standings.
Follow Kyle on Twitter @Kkylewood and contact him at [email protected].