The Gators fell flat when it mattered.
Florida’s best option was Jalen Hudson. It had to be.
Florida’s men’s basketball team gave the No .6 Kentucky Wildcats a fight for 30 minutes of Saturday’s regular-season finale. But Kentucky took advantage of a worn-out Florida team in those final 10 minutes to run away with a 66-57 victory at Rupp Arena.
The Gators concluded the regular season with a 17-14 record, 9-9 in conference play.
Florida made just five of its first 15 shots of the game, falling behind by as many as nine in the first half.
Guard Jalen Hudson started his second-straight game after his season-high 33-point game against LSU on Wednesday night.
Hudson struggled with his jump shot against the Wildcats (26-5, 15-3 SEC), though. His first five shots were either mid-range jumpers or three-point attempts, and they were all misses. Despite going 0 for 5 from deep, the senior still finished the game with 13 points (second-highest on the team) off 6-of-16 shooting.
Guard KeVaughn Allen entered the game amid a 4-of-25 shooting slump over the last three contests, and that carried into Saturday’s matchup. He took just six shots, and his only points were from a three-pointer five minutes into the second half.
Despite the struggles from their leading scorer (Allen averages 11.9 points per game) the Gators made it a tight game until late.
A team-high 19 points from center Kevarrius Hayes was a big reason for that. Hayes was 8 of 9 from the field to help Florida to 44.4 percent shooting. And he hauled in five rebounds and blocked two shots.
The Wildcats’ size wore on the Gators, though. They dominated the glass 39-23.
Florida tried going with a larger lineup as a result, with Hudson (6-foot-6), Hayes (6-foot-9) and forward Dontay Bassett (6-foot-9) all on the floor for a good portion of the first half.
But Hayes was the only one getting quality shots. He was perfect from the floor during that span, and he was 2 for 2 from the free throw line.
The Gators didn’t get the spark they needed until the 4:54-mark of the first half when a wide open three-pointer from guard Mike Okauru jumpstarted a 10-5 run that allowed UF to take a 31-30 lead into the half.
UK coach John Calipari made some necessary adjustments at halftime after his team allowed the Gators to shoot nearly 50 percent in the first frame.
The Wildcats forced a faster pace and were much more sound on defense in the second half.
Four UK players scored at least 14 points on Saturday, and forward PJ Washington and guard Tyler Herro combined for 23 second-half points to turn a three-point UK deficit at the beginning of the second half to a 12-point advantage with 5:47 left.
Forward Isaiah Stokes, whose physicality in the post gave the Gators seven quality minutes in the first half wasn’t as effective down the stretch, and no one outside of Hudson and Hayes found the basket.
Florida had expended much of its energy in its late first-half run, and when the Wildcats took control of the game, the Gators didn’t have enough left to compete in those critical final minutes.
Follow Alanis Thames on Twitter @alanisthames and contact her at [email protected].