Jalen Hudson scored 17 of his 22 points in the first half and Egor Koulechov chipped in with 16 points of his own as Florida shot 10-for-24 from three while running No. 23 Kentucky out of Gainesville, 80-67.
Florida has had an up and down season to date, which is to be expected from a team that runs hot and cold from beyond the arc, but what cannot be overlooked at this point is the body of work that the Gators have strung together. They’ve beaten Gonzaga. They’ve beaten Cincinnati. They’ve beatne Auburn. They’ve won at Missouri and Texas A&M. They knocked off Baylor. And now they’ve swept Kentucky.
I don’t know just how much I can trust the Gators, but I do know that their ceiling is as high as just about anyone in college basketball, and for a team that is trending towards a No. 5 seed, that’s hard to ignore; Florida is going to win NCAA tournament pools, either because you picked them to lose in the first round or because you road a hot hand to a Final Four. There is no in between.
For Kentucky, however, this loss was frustrating simply because the Wildcats, who had seemingly figured out so many of their issues in the last two weeks, regressed back into the team that was a dumb Vanderbilt foul away from losing five straight SEC games.
Florida torched them in the first half. Absolutely torched them, but the question that needs to be asked is whether that was a result of Kentucky’s foul trouble. The key to this recent Wildcat resurgence has been the play of Jarred Vanderbilt and Kentucky’s ability to use a small-ball lineup with their two point guards and a front-line of Kevin Knox, P.J. Washington and Vanderbilt.
But both Vanderbilt and Washington picked up a pair of early fouls, sat for much of the first half and watched on as all of that toughness and defensive solidity that had appeared in this four-game winning streak evaporated.
Put another way, Florida landed a few body blows in the first half, and instead of fighting back, Kentucky seemed to fold.
Was that because the guys they have that can and do fight back were on the bench?
With all due respect to Hamidou Diallo, Nick Richards and Sacha Killeya-Jones, I think the answer to that question can be found in Saturday’s scoreline.