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No. 14 Kentucky played much better than final score indicates

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No. 3 Florida went into Rupp Arena and knocked off No. 14 Kentucky on Friday night, 69-59.

Casey Prather finished with 24 points and four steals while Scottie Wilbekin went for 23 points and two assists without a turnover while hitting big shot after big shot in the second half. Simply looking at a box score would lead one to believe that this was a dominating performance from the Gators. That’s generally the case when the road team wins by double-digits.

But what a box score won’t tell you is that Kentucky outplayed Florida for a good 30 minutes, and that after 34 minutes of basketball, the Wildcats were tied with Florida at 53.

Kentucky pounded the ball inside in the first half, riding the low-post game of Julius Randle — and some hot shooting from James Young — to a 31-28 halftime lead. In the second half, Florida started doubling every post touch on the catch, forcing Kentucky’s perimeter to make plays to beat them, and they did. The ball moved around the perimeter and Kentucky hit enough of their open looks to build a lead that grew as big as seven midway through the half.

Perhaps most impressive was the Wildcats defense. The final numbers aren’t all that impressive — Florida shot 44.0% from the floor, got to the line 28 times and only committed five turnovers — but that was a combination of Wilbekin hitting tough shots and Prather getting easy buckets in transition. When Kentucky was able to get their defense set, Florida struggled. The Wildcats gave the Gators a number of different looks (straight man-to-man, switching man-to-man, a 2-3 zone) and, for the most part, it was really effective.

The issue with Kentucky all season long has been their defense, and for 30 minutes on Saturday night, the Wildcats played terrific on that end of the floor.

With 11 minutes left, Kentucky held a 45-38 lead.

Florida would outscore them down the stretch 31-14.

What happened?

  • Patric Young turned into Tim Duncan down the stretch. If he’s hitting running hooks and left-handed jump-hooks from 12 feet out, there’s not much you can do.
  • Kentucky gave up too much penetration, which resulted in Florida camping out at the charity stripe. The Gators were 15-for-17 from the line during that span, with only three of those free throws the result of intentional fouling.
  • Two back-breaking offensive rebounds. One was by Will Yeguete, who found Michael Frazier for a three to put Florida up 60-55 and deflate both the crowd and the Wildcats. The other was by Casey Prather, who skied over everyone on Kentucky to get a Grown Man’s Rebound with just 1:23 left.
  • Poor offensive execution down the stretch. Florida dug in their heels defensively, and Kentucky couldn’t score late.

Florida is a very, very good basketball team.

Kentucky outplayed them for 30 minutes.

It’s weird handing out moral victories to a program like Kentucky in February, but when you’re dealing with a team of freshmen, any sign of growth is a good thing. That’s just how it is for this team right now. Kentucky is getting better. We saw it tonight.

Two defensive rebounds.

Six minutes of execution offensively.

That’s how close they were to beating the best team in the country on Saturday.

That’s a far cry from the team that was smacked around by LSU a couple of weeks back, isn’t it?

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.