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The best Kentucky vs. Florida basketball games of the John Calipari Era

Cats vs. Gators games are usually pretty thrilling.

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

The Kentucky Wildcats have always dominated the SEC, and used to not have to face a lot of top 25 competition in the league.

That’s changed now, obviously, with Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Tennessee, Auburn, and others hiring winning coaches and revitalizing their programs to make the SEC one of the best and toughest leagues in the entire sport.

But throughout every year of Calipari’s tenure one team has been a consistent challenge—the Florida Gators.

They’ve faced a ranked Gators squad over a dozen times under Calipari, and have played in some classics over the years. Here are some of the highlights of the series in recent years:

3/10/2012: Cats edge Gators in SEC Tournament

Kentucky had their hands full in the 2012 SEC Tournament semifinals with #22 Florida, but just like they had all season, the ‘Cats found a way to seize the victory. 15 points and 12 rebounds from Anthony Davis was the key reason UK came out on top 74-71 and improved to 32-1 on the year, but perhaps this game tired them out? While they won the NCAA Tournament a few weeks later, the very next day Vanderbilt did stun them in the SEC Championship game.

3/9/2013: Kentucky team that would miss tourney knocks off #11 Florida in Rupp

One of the best wins of the season for the post-championship team that just barely missed the NCAA Tournament after a down year came in the final game of the regular season. A few days later they got bounced from the SEC Tournament by Vanderbilt, but they still stunned the Gators 61-57 on Senior Day.

3/16/2014: Cats almost knock off #1 Gators in SEC Tournament Final

In 2013-2014, the Florida Gators were 32-2 going into the NCAA Tournament, went 21-0 in SEC play including the SEC Tournament, and went to the Final Four as the #1 overall seed. That kind of Kentucky or Gonzaga-like dominance that we usually only see once every few years...from Florida??? Yep, and unranked 24-9 Kentucky almost toppled them right before the Big Dance. Trailing 60-61 after clawing back from a 16-point deficit, Kentucky had the last shot but lost the ball right before the buzzer sounded, their chance to win the game literally “slipping away.” In a weird and fascinating way, though, by losing this game Kentucky advanced all the way to the national championship game while Florida “only” made the Final Four! Imagine if UK had won—they wouldn’t have been an 8-seed but probably a 7 or 6-seed, and wouldn’t have been able to play the teams they did, including 1-seed Wichita State. Would they have advanced as far as they did with an entirely different set of matchups? As an 8-seed probably not.

3/7/2020: EJ Montgomery’s tip-in complete incredible comeback

This one’s my personal favorite and a very sweet victory right before a year-and-a-half “dark age” for the Wildcats. After trailing by as many as 18 points on the road in front of a raucous Gator crowd, the ‘Cats slowly clawed back until with 0:27 left Florida turned the ball over while up 70-69. UK had to come away with points on this critical possession, and EJ Montgomery, who had struggled all season and the season prior, tipped in a Keion Brooks Jr. miss in his final game in Kentucky blue to put the ‘Cats up 71-70 after trailing for the entirety of the game. Florida’s three-point heave at the buzzer just barely missed, and the ‘Cats started celebrating.