The Cats came out hot and clearly ready to play as they scored at wills early on. Less than 12 minutes into the game, Kentucky led 30-15 in what looked like a blowout.
However, Florida responded with a 13-0 run, which ended up being a 22-6 run to end the half as the Gators took a 37-36 lead.
After the break, the Cats came out the right way with a 14-6 run to go up 50-43. But the Gators didn’t go away. Florida fought back each time it looked like Kentucky might pull away as a back-and-forth affair ensued.
I’m pretty positive Kentucky didn’t make a single substitution in the second half, either. It was certainly a game of runs and in the end, it was Kentucky who held off the Gators.
Chris Livingston made what was essentially the game-winning play with 52 seconds left.
REBOUND. BASKET. AND THE FOUL.— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 23, 2023
CHRIS LIVINGSTON. pic.twitter.com/q4ht3NpjKh
Just keep winning.
Next up, the Cats will return home to take on the Auburn Tigers on Saturday afternoon.
Injuries for both sides
Kentucky was without Sahvir Wheeler and CJ Fredrick once again. While both players are listed day-to-day, the injuries have kept both players out for several games. As a reminder, Wheeler is dealing with an ankle injury and Fredrick has a cracked rib.
On the other side, Florida’s Colin Castleton is done for the season after breaking his hand against the Ole Miss Rebels. His absence was clearly more significant as he’s the Gators’ best player and flat-out dominated Oscar Tshiebwe on both ends the last time these two teams met.
Kentucky needs both their guys back to make a run in March, while Florida’s season is essentially over, but this one still wasn’t easy. The Wildcats need a healthy Wheeler and Fredrick to have any hope of making a deep NCAA Tournament run.
Tshiebwe dominated Castleton in two matchups last season, but Florida’s big man definitely got the best of the reigning National Player of the Year the last time these two teams met. Obviously, Kentucky pulled out the victory, which is all that matters, but the matchup was still notable.
This time around, Tshiebwe took full advantage of Castleton’s absence as Florida’s back line had no answer. Tshiebwe was able to get what he want when he wanted in vintage Big O fashion, finishing with 25 points on 12/13 shooting to go with four boards, three assists, one steal, and one block.
The basket to give Big O 1,000 points in & ⚪️ pic.twitter.com/ldoQShemZ4— Kentucky Men’s Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 23, 2023
While Tshiebwe hasn’t necessarily been as good this year as he was last (who is?), every now and then he reminds us just how good he can be when he needs to
Defense leaves a lot to be desired, but Cats dominate the glass
Well, that wasn’t pretty. After a very good defensive showing against the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday, Kentucky couldn’t guard a brick wall in this one.
Florida, who is a poor offensive team to begin with, was without their best player/scorer and still carved up the Cats’ defense. As they say, defense wins championships, and while the modern game has evolved to make that more difficult, Kentucky will have to show a semblance of defense to make a run in March.
However, it has to be noted that the rebounding was excellent. Early in the season, the Cats struggled in this department, but it’s clearly become a strong suit for this squad. After dominating UT on the boards, they also dominated the Gators much the same way. Offensive rebounds lead to additional scoring opportunities, but defensive rebounds lead to limited scoring opportunities for opposing offenses, so that has to be taken into account in the total defensive performance.