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Kentucky completes amazing comeback to top Florida: 5 things to know and postgame banter

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The Cats fought until the end and completed an unbelievable 18-point comeback for the big-time win.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats got a huge win against the Florida Gators 71-70 in Gainesville Saturday afternoon in the last game of the regular season.

The Cats came out how many expected they might: flat. And it was clear early on as they went into the half down 40-30.

After the break, it got ugly. The officiating was horrific. Cal got ejected, or so he thought, then returned to the bench. And the team seemingly fell apart.

They fought back the last 10 minutes, but it looked all for naught. But then something happened. The Cats exploded for a huge 18-point comeback win.

The energy and effort they put forward could not be questioned as the game winded down. They fought to the very end. And it all paid off.

What a win!!!

As the regular season comes to an end, the postseason is in sight. Kentucky will play at 1 p.m. ET on Friday in Nashville. March Madness is officially here.

Hagans did not make the trip

After the turmoil that ensued during Kentucky’s second half collapse against the Tennessee Volunteers, there was rampant speculation and concern surrounding the team and Ashton Hagans.

Well, that finally came to light this afternoon as John Calipari announced that Hagans did not even make the trip to Gainesville.

While this isn’t ideal heading into postseason play, the Cats need Hagans to make a deep run in the coming weeks. It looks like he’s still being positive, though.

Hopefully, this is just a blip on the radar and doesn’t affect UK in the long term. These kinds of things tend to either tear a team apart, or bring them all together. They didn’t respond well today, but we’ll see how they respond going forward.

New starting five

The last time I did this was because of Hagans and that’s the case again today. In the first matchup with the Gators, Hagans was coming off a thigh contusion and was questionable leading up to the game.

He played—quite a bit actually—but Johnny Juzang earned his second start in his place. This time around, Keion Brooks was the one that earned the start. And Tyrese Maxey was running the point full-time for the first time in his short college career.

The rest of the lineup remained the same, with the exception of Nate Sestina who started last game for the Senior Day festivities.

The absence of Hagans meant UK was only able to play seven guys, but Calipari did mention that Dontaie Allen was available off the bench. Probably best not to burn his redshirt, though.

The offense was stagnant, but recovered

The offense was obviously stagnant without Hagans manning it. He makes mistakes and he’s frustrating, but his ability to penetrate the defense and attack was clearly missing today.

UK just couldn’t get anything going. Florida changed up the defense time and time again and the Cats simply looked confused. They settled for jumpers and missed multiple point-blank shots.

However, as the game went on, they fought back and it got much better. Enough to get a huge win on the road.

Same with the defense

Hagans’ absence was not only felt on the offensive end, but it was felt even more so on the defensive end. He is amazing at shutting players down, stealing passes, and disrupting the opposing team’s offense.

That wasn’t there today and Kentucky looked bad at times. Whether it was losing their man or giving up easy drives, they just couldn’t stop the Gators.

One thing that might’ve had something to do with this was the fact that UK basically had seven guys to play the entire game—assuming Cal didn’t want to burn Allen’s redshirt. That meant guys had to be careful not to foul and over-aggressiveness was probably discouraged.

But in the final half of the game, the Cats continued to claw and scrape until they cleaned it up to shut down the Gators in the final 10 minutes,

Sestina, Juzang, and Brooks gave some big-time minutes

One positive was the play from the normal bench guys. Setina, Juzang, and Brooks all played very well today.

They all have their flaws, especially defensively, but they gave Kentucky really, really GREAT minutes when they desperately needed it.

All three of these guys played as hard as I’ve seen anyone play all season. They deserve the credit for keeping UK from getting blown out in this one.

That’s big moving forward because the Cats will need it over the next few weeks. Bench play is huge and they will need to give the starters a breather when necessary. Despite the frustrations today, these guys took advantage of the opportunities they were given.

I was ready to say, “Let’s just throw this one out and forget it happened, deal?”

But this team regrouped and straightened this thing out. What a game and what a win by UK.

Go Cats!!!