After a few minutes on pure oxygen, I finally feel up to reviewing this game, and what a game it was. The Florida Gators decided to go big or go home against Kentucky, and it almost worked for them. For 38 minutes, the Gators played Kentucky big shot for big shot. In many ways the offense on display in this game was kind of a poor man's echo of the great 1992 game between the Duke Blue Devils and the Kentucky Wildcats in the regional finals -- both teams making can-you-top-this big shots throughout much of the game.
But in the end, Kentucky won yet again in spite of Florida playing arguably their best game of the season. The Gators deserve a heck of a lot of credit for the way they played this game, their sharp execution, and their refusal to give up when Kentucky got a late lead. The offense from both sides was breathtakingly efficient for much of the game, and Florida had 11 made 3-point field goals on 22 attempts, which represents their sweet spot. Florida has lost only three games this year (including this one) when they have made 10 or more 3-point shots, a feat they have accomplished no less than 21 times this season.
Congratulations to the Gators for one of the best games they have played all year against a defense far tougher than almost any they have faced. Kentucky had to really strain to overcome Florida's shooting, but one thing about this team that every SEC team knows this year (and perhaps Florida best of all) is that it simply doesn't ever give up, and if you give them any chance at all to win, they will.
There are too many superlatives to discuss here, and I had made up my mind well before the game finally ended that the game ball was not going to any one person. As Moses said to Jethro of Midian after being presented his seven daughters for a choice of wife in The Ten Commandments, "Can a man choose from among the stars of the sky?" And just like Moses, I find that an impossible task. Game ball -- the starting five.
Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague all played very, very well. It was particularly satisfying to see Teague bounce back so strongly from the abysmal game he had yesterday, and Terrence Jones continues to impress me with his intensity and determination. He is peaking at the right time.
Kentucky's mental toughness was truly on display in this game. They never once quailed at being down, they never showed the least bit of doubt or concern about the outcome, and they focused very much on team basketball. They also rebounded the basketball surpassingly well, particularly offensively.
Kentucky also did a great job of avoiding fouls. Florida went to the line a whopping 2 times in this game, and that is an amazingly low number.
It's hard not to be impressed at some of the threes Florida made though -- they made them over the long, tall Wildcats under circumstances where you wouldn't expect those shots to go down. That speaks to just how good Florida can be from outside the arc, and if they get hot in the tournament, they could very well make a deep, deep run.
Not so superlative:
I think Kentucky could have played better defensively -- in fact, I know they can, because they did down in Gainesville a week ago. Kentucky also shot the ball poorly from three, and Darius Miller, who has been playing very well up until yesterday, was not able to be a factor offensively although he did do some good things otherwise.
I was also a bit disappointed by our lack of ability to finish through contact -- a problem that has reared its head a few times this year. This game really did nothing to dispel the perception that Kentucky does not play well in games with a lot of contact, and I think if there is one thing that coach Calipari should really harp on after this game, it is physical toughness, because Kentucky is going to need it.
I thought Kentucky dogged it a few times getting back on defense, and that's unlike them. They allowed at least two end-to-end baskets that just drive coaches -- and knowledgeable fans -- crazy.
This wasn't Kentucky's best defensive performance, but Florida had a lot to say about that. The Gators made deep threes and did a great job forcing the tempo so they could get open looks in transition, many of which they knocked down. This was arguably the best that Florida can play considering the competition they faced, and it should give Gator fans hope for the tournament.
Offensively, Kentucky was efficient, and even though they could have shot the ball better, particularly from three and from the line (where they weren't bad at 75%), I don't think there is a lot to criticize other than the small points I mentioned above.
Overall, though, it was a great game against a "nutty" shooting Florida that proved to me the mental toughness of this team, as if it needed to be proven again. Kentucky will now face the winner of the Mississippi Rebels - Vanderbilt Commodores game tomorrow in the 2012 SEC Championship game.