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Florida exposes Kentucky’s struggles against the press

The Wildcats struggled mightily to keep the ball out of Florida’s hands when they got pressed late in Saturday’s win.

John Calipari, Tyrese Maxey, Nick Richards

The Florida Gators exposed what might be the Kentucky Wildcats’ biggest weakness Saturday night: playing against the press.

In the Wildcats’ 65-59 win over the Gators, Florida pressed UK on five consecutive inbound pass attempts.

One of those inbounds attempts ended in a turnover. Three ended in fouls. One ended with UK calling a timeout to avoid a five-second violation.

UK looked dismayed on all five of those plays, just like they did four days earlier at LSU when the Tigers pressed the Cats into several late turnovers in a near-comeback.

UK struggled mightily hanging onto the ball in the second half to begin with. The Wildcats had nine second-half turnovers, which ballooned their total number of turnovers to 13 — the most they’ve had in an SEC game this season.

Four of those turnovers came in the final three minutes, and the last three came with less than 45 seconds remaining — two by Ashton Hagans and one by Tyrese Maxey.

All three happened on consecutive possessions, as Florida’s Scottie Lewis stole a pass from Maxey on a sideline inbound. A score by the Gators on the ensuing possession cut UK’s lead to four points.

UK compounded the issue by not even completing the next inbounds pass — the full-court press forced a bad pass attempt from Hagans to Maxey.

Luckily for UK, Florida turned it right back over on a drive into the lane, but the Gators kept the pressure up on the UK fast-break and picked Hagans off again.

Hagans’ struggles against the press led to him having six total turnovers. That’s tied for his most in a single game this season.

The Wildcats were bailed out later in the game when Florida pressed and fouled Nick Richards with 16 seconds left. The press forced an inbounds pass into the corner of the back court where Richards was isolated and would’ve had nowhere to go with the ball if he hadn’t been fouled.

And even though he was fouled, the Gators came close to picking him clean.

On the ensuing inbounds, UK nearly gave the ball away yet again, as the Wildcats failed to get the ball inbounds and John Calipari had to call a timeout to save a five-second violation. The Wildcats were stuck in the corner of the back-court again.

The timeout served as a chance to draw something up, and Calipari did that — the Wildcats finally got the ball inbounds on the next attempt, and the Gators fouled Maxey, getting UK out of its own corner and giving the Cats more room to operate for the next inbound (which resulted in a foul, free throws, and eventually survival for UK).

The struggles against the press could’ve been far more disastrous if Florida hadn’t also turned the ball over nine times in the second half, and shot only 11% from 3-point range in the second half.

UK played good defense, and Immanuel Quickley continued to shine, but the Wildcats have an issue to address in their press offense. It’s something they could pay dearly for if they run into a team that executes the press well for 40 minutes.