Kasey Hill played the best game of his collegiate career, finishing with a career-high 21 points to go along with five boards, five assists and some stellar defense on Malik Monk as No. 24 Florida landed their first marquee win of the season over No. 8 Kentucky, 88-66.
Devin Robinson added 16 points and nine boards for the Gators while Kevaughn Allen chipped in with 12 points.
De’Aaron Fox led the Wildcats with 19. Malik Monk had 11 points, but he went scoreless in the first half and finished the night 4-for-14 from the floor.
Here are three things to take away from that game:
1. It’s time to start taking Florida seriously: We’ve known that this Florida team is good. They entered Saturday sitting at 17-5 on the season and a game out of first place in the SEC. They were ranked seventh in KenPom’s ranking prior to the start of their game and slotted in with one of the nation’s top ten defenses. None of that happens by accident. But before Saturday, the Gators hadn’t actually done anything of note this season. Their best wins were Seton Hall, Miami, Arkansas and Tennessee, and there’s a distinct possibility that all four of those teams will miss the NCAA tournament.
Hell, it’s not even surprising that Florida won. They were favored. KenPom projected them to win by two.
But this wasn’t just a win for Florida. This was a statement, one that happened on national television in primetime on a Saturday night. It happened on college gameday against Kentucky. That’s not something that is easily forgotten, and it’s something that justifies their ranking and the numbers that the computers spit out.
It’s an outcome that supports what our eyes tell us: This Florida team is damn good, and, with SEC leader South Carolina coming to the O-Dome later on this season, may be good enough to win an SEC title.
It starts with their defense, where the Gators have big, tough and strong athletes at every spot on the floor. The difference in the body composition of Florida players and Kentucky players was striking. Everyone on that Florida team looks like they haven’t missed a day in the weight room since they first stepped foot on that campus, which is perfect for the way that Mike White wants to play. They pressure, they take you out of your sets, they try to force turnovers and they basically just make running an offense a living hell.
Their offense comes from that. They aren’t great, but their ability to turn turnovers into points and the fact that they play two points guards – Hill and Chris Chiozza – together makes up for the fact that they aren’t a great shooting team and that they don’t have a ton of offensive talent.
In other words, the reason Florida won this game was because they were a far better team. That said …
2. … Kentucky looked soft: That was the biggest difference in this game.
Malik Monk didn’t shoot it well, and Bam Adebayo struggled against John Egbunu, and Kentucky’s half-court offense didn’t stand a chance against Florida’s defense. All of that is true. But the reason that Florida went into halftime with a lead, the reason they were able to get so many easy baskets on runouts, was that they just played harder than Kentucky did.
That sounds like an oversimplification, but trust me, if you watched the game you know it’s true. The Gators got seemingly every loose ball. They obliterated Kentucky on the glass. They turned Kentucky’s offense into Fox driving left into traffic or Adebayo forcing a move in the post.
Florida looked like they were ready for the fight, and Kentucky didn’t have an answer.
3. Kentucky goes as Malik Monk goes: Monk played his worst game as a Wildcat on Saturday. He finished with 11 points, his lowest total since the season opener, and was just 4-for-14 from the floor, which is the worst he’s shot in a game this season. He’s averaging 18.0 points while shooting 37 percent from the floor and 30.7 percent from three in the three games Kentucky has lost in the last two weeks. He was 6-for-17 from the floor and 1-for-9 from three in the loss at Louisville, and he struggled in close road wins at Vanderbilt and Mississippi State as well.
Perhaps the best example of this came on Tuesday night, not Saturday. Monk had six points in the first half of a game against Georgia, then went for 31 in the second half an overtime to lead Kentucky back from a big deficit.