Gators cool off Cats in regular season finale
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jalen Hudson scored 22 points, Chris Chiozza broke the school’s all-time assist record and Florida beat No. 23 Kentucky 80-67 on Saturday, ending the Wildcats’ four-game winning streak.
The Gators won their third straight, swept Kentucky for the first time in four years and secured the No. 3 seed in next week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament.
The Wildcats (21-10, 10-8 SEC) will be seeded fourth or fifth depending on the outcome of the Arkansas-Missouri game later Saturday. No team seeded lower than third has won the SEC Tournament since it went to a 14-team format in 2013.
Regardless, the loss won’t sit well with coach John Calipari, whose team failed to match Florida’s energy and effort on “Senior Day.” The Gators honored Chiozza, Egor Koulechov and injured center John Egbunu before the game.
The Wildcats showed some life midway through the second half, whittling a 23-point deficit to single digits (65-56). But Hudson answered with one of his biggest shots of the game, a 3-pointer from the wing that rattled around the rim before falling through with 6:17 remaining.
Koulechov followed with two free throws, and Keith Stone put an exclamation point on the lopsided victory with a thunderous dunk that sent the home crowd into a frenzy.
The Gators (20-11, 11-7) held on from there.
They used a barrage of dunks and 3-pointers, many of them off turnovers, to build a double-digit lead in the first half. Chiozza’s record-breaking assist may have been the turning point.
Chiozza started to drive to the basket and then tossed the ball back out to Stone, who drilled a 3 that made it 28-17 and prompted Calipari to call a timeout.
The Gators made their next seven shots, including a pair of 3s by Hudson, to push the lead to 17.
KeVaughn Allen, who had one of the best all-around games of his career, tacked on a 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer to make it 48-33 at the break. Allen finished with nine points, seven rebounds and a career-high seven assists.
Florida was just getting warmed up, too.
Hudson hit back-to-back 3s early in the second half to make it 62-39.
Florida played hard for the fourth straight outing and looked much more like the team ranked No. 5 in early December than the one that dropped six of eight in league play between Jan. 24 and Feb. 21.
The Wildcats entered Saturday as the hottest team in the league, having won four straight while averaging 87.7 points a game. They looked like a shell of that team in Gainesville, giving up 16 points off turnovers and getting outscored in the paint and behind the arc.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led Kentucky with 17 points. Kevin Knox added 14.
Kentucky: The Wildcats finished 4-6 on the road, not all that surprising since they have four freshmen and a sophomore in the starting lineup. Given the propensity of Big Blue Nation to travel, especially in the postseason, Kentucky should be surrounded by “home” crowds the rest of the season.
Florida: The Gators have seemingly found something just in time for the postseason, especially if they’re able to build on wins against Auburn, Alabama and Kentucky.
Kentucky: Plays in the SEC Tournament either Thursday or Friday.
Florida: Opens SEC Tournament play Friday night.
FLORIDA 80, No. 23 KENTUCKY 67
Knox 3-10 5-7 12, Gabriel 1-4 0-0 3, Richards 1-2 0-2 2, Gilgeous-Alexander 7-14 2-4 17, Diallo 0-7 1-2 1, Vanderbilt 2-4 2-2 6, Killeya-Jones 1-1 0-0 2, Washington 5-9 3-5 13, Green 4-7 0-0 11. Totals 24-58 13-22 67.
Hayes 1-2 0-2 2, Koulechov 5-7 4-6 16, Hudson 8-16 3-3 22, Chiozza 2-7 5-6 9, Allen 4-9 0-0 11, Stone 4-10 0-0 10, Gak 2-3 2-3 6, Okauru 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 28-57 14-20 80.
Halftime_Florida 48-33. 3-Point Goals_Kentucky 6-16 (Green 3-3, Gilgeous-Alexander 1-2, Gabriel 1-3, Knox 1-5, Diallo 0-3), Florida 10-25 (Hudson 3-7, Allen 3-7, Koulechov 2-3, Stone 2-4, Chiozza 0-4). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Kentucky 32 (Washington 7), Florida 31 (Allen 7). Assists_Kentucky 6 (Gilgeous-Alexander 4), Florida 15 (Allen 7). Total Fouls_Kentucky 17, Florida 20.