The Florida Gators have been very good all season long. They came into Saturday night’s game with the Kentucky Wildcats with a 17-5 mark. Four of those five losses were in competitive games against Gonzaga, Duke, Florida State and South Carolina. The only “bad loss” was a nail biter against Vanderbilt. Since the Vandy loss, the Gators had won three in a row, all by at least 30 points.
But the knock on Florida was they hadn’t beaten any ranked teams. They had come close, but couldn’t get that signature win. Saturday night they got one.
Florida held the high scoring Kentucky Wildcats, who came in ranked number eight, to 26 points in the first half. It was the lowest scoring half of the season for the Cats. Malik Monk, who scored 31 after halftime in UK’s win over Georgia on Tuesday, was held scoreless in the first half.
Florida so dominated Kentucky on the boards that they had more offensive rebounds than UK had total rebounds. Yet the Gators led by only eight at the break. One had the feeling the Cats would come back in the second half and pull this one out. But the Gators defense never let up. They forced turnovers and grabbed rebounds which led to fast break points all night and by the time it was all over the Gators had their signature win. Kasey Hill played perhaps the best game since coming to Florida four seasons ago. He spent all evening running the Cats out of the newly renovated O’Connell Center, getting anywhere he wanted to and either scoring himself or dishing to a teammate for a dunk.
By the time it was over, Florida had won it 88-66, their fourth straight win by over 20 points and their biggest margin of victory ever over Kentucky. For the Cats, it was their third loss in four games and the fourth straight game where they failed to lead in regulation. A team that looked unbeatable early in the season when they scored 100 points against North Carolina, suddenly looks very average heading down the stretch.
The new leader in the SEC is now the South Carolina Gamecocks at 9-1 followed by the Gators and Cats at 8-2. All three will still face each other before the end of the regular season. The finish should be very exciting.