Unfortunately for the Florida Gator men’s basketball team, the third time wasn’t the charm. After defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide in the second round of the SEC Tournament on Thursday, the Gators got yet another chance at the top ranked Kentucky Wildcats.
For the second time in six days the Gators were given the chance to dethrone the Wildcats and give them their first loss of the 2014-15 season.
But for the second time in a row, Billy Donovan’s crew fell just a tad bit short falling 64-49.
Once again the Gators jumped out to a quick lead and played well for the first 20 minutes. The Gators found themselves down just four going into the locker room and the team seemed poised to make another run at pulling off a potential upset.
“I thought we played very, very well.” Donovan said. “We got off to a good start which was positive and came into the locker room down four. I think statistically, if you looked at the game, everything seemed pretty even and I thought both teams defended well.”
The Gators (16-17, 8-10) shot just under 40 percent in the first half while the Wildcats shot 36 percent. Both teams managed to hit just one shot from beyond the arc.
Unfortunately for the Gators, they weren’t quite able to replicate the same success in the second half and just like every other team Kentucky’s faced this season, the Gators were worn down. Florida shot just 9 of 27 in the second half, shooting an abysmal 33 percent from the field. Doing what they do best, the Wildcats upped their shooting percentage to 39 percent, connecting on a couple more 3 point shots.
The Gators finished with two players in double figures, led by senior Jon Horford who led all scorers with 15, his largest output since scoring 17 against the Miami Hurricanes in the team’s second game of the season. Horford was 7-of-10 from the field, finishing with three rebounds and one block. Redshirt junior Eli Carter was the other double digit scorer finishing with 11 points, shooting 5-of-10 from the field. The team’s two best scorers finished with quite possibly their worst performances of the season.
Redshirt junior Dorian Finney-Smith shot just 2-of-10 from the field, finishing with just four points while junior Michael Frazier II scored just two points, with both of those coming from the free throw line. The Gators couldn’t seem to find much success down the stretch and Donovan noted where his team struggled the most.
“I didn’t feel like we had struggles running our offense, I felt at times certain situations were either, we didn’t make smart, good decisions when we got into the paint or at times we didn’t have good enough angles to execute over their length.”
The biggest issue for the Gators on Friday afternoon was their inability to get to the charity stripe. The Gators got to the free throw line just five times throughout Friday’s game, connecting on just three of those attempts. Despite shooting just 16 percent from beyond the arc, Donovan believed this may have been the most disappointing statistic for his team on the day.
“I think if you take away the free throw line it’s pretty consistent all the way through. Just about every stat is pretty even but the one huge, drastic difference was the free throw line and that was ultimately the margin in the game.”
The Wildcats (32-0, 18-0) also finished with two players in double figures. Both Karl-Anthony Towns and Aaron Harrison finished with 13 points on a combined 9-of-18 shooting from the field. The Wildcats outrebounded the Gators by six and finished with two more blocks. Kentucky ousted the Gators in virtually every category and Donovan proclaimed just why the Wildcats are the best team in the country.
“They have a great ability to go smaller if they need too and play Booker or Ulis and the Harrison twins together. They’ve got two really good low post scorers in Dakari and Towns, and Cauley-Stein and Lee are more finishers and dunkers around the basket.”
The Gators will now await the NIT selection on Sunday to see if their season will continue. The Wildcats on the other hand will continue their pursuit of perfection as they meet the Auburn Tigers in the semi-final of the SEC tournament on Saturday.
Tip-off for that game is set for 1pm.
To hear the audio of the quotes above, click on the links below:
Billy Donovan talks about the team’s success
Billy Donovan talks about the inability to get to the free throw line
Billy Donovan talks about his team’s struggles inside
Billy Donovan talks about UK and why they’re so good