The 12th-ranked UK Hoops team (15-4, 4-4) traveled to Gainesville, Florida on Sunday to play the Florida Gators. The team had hopes of rebounding from a painful loss at home against Vanderbilt.
Instead, poor defense, turnovers and foul trouble sunk Kentucky’s bid to avoid consecutive losses for the first team this season.
The Gators entered the game as the top scoring team in the SEC and were able to successfully slash through Kentucky’s vaunted defense for much of the game.
Florida jumped out to an 11-4 lead until two quick baskets and a trio Evelyn Akhator foul shots pulled Kentucky to within three points at 15-12. Simone Westbrook of Florida managed to sink a two 3-pointers to halt the Kentucky run and push the home team’s lead at the end of the first quarter to 22-14.
Any time it seemed Kentucky finally had the Gators on their heels, Florida always found an answer.
Ten quick points from Maci Morris in the second quarter sparked a scoring surge that gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game and one they extend to 37-32 after a Makayla Epps jumper with 3:14 to play in the half.
Fouls and turnovers halted Kentucky’s momentum before the half and Florida waltzed into the locker room ahead by four, 43-39.
Florida never surrendered the lead during the second half but could never quite put Kentucky away, even when they led by 13 points in the third quarter. Kentucky was able to cut the lead to two points with 20 seconds to play thanks to another Epps jumper.
However, by that point in the game Kentucky’s two best 3-point shooters, Morris and Thompson, had fouled out the game and that limited the Wildcats’ offensive versatility.
The Gators’ game-clinching 5-0 run sealed their 85-79 victory, Kentucky’s fifth of the season overall and also their fifth defeat in conference play.
For most of the game Florida’s shifting defenses bundled Kentucky and got them out of their flow on offense, even though Kentucky shot 58 percent from the field.The Gators stole the ball 16 times and forced Kentucky into a season-high 30 turnovers.
Three Wildcats finished the game in double figures: Makayla Epps (27 points), Janee Thompson (16 points) and Evelyn Akhator (14 points).
Epps also finished with seven rebounds and two assists. Thompson also finished with two dimes but turned the ball over a team-high nine times. Akhator grabbed 10 rebounds to record yet another double-double.
Kentucky returns to the court this Thursday in Columbia to take on the undefeated and 2nd-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks.