We hear the “Kentucky is everyone’s Super Bowl” narrative all the time, but some teams prove that more than others from time to time. On road games, opposing fanbases are always rowdy when Kentucky comes to town, but depending on the circumstance, some atmospheres seem to be a bit more invested than others.
At 12-8 on the year, the Florida Gators were in desperate need of a quality win to swing momentum back their way on the season, and the 10,763 fans lining the Stephen C. O’Connell Center this afternoon showed just that.
For the first 26 minutes of the game, that desperation factor worked for the Gators, pushing the lead to 11 points with 13:59 remaining in the second half. Even from there, Florida still maintained a lead with just five minutes remaining.
Unfortunately for the Gator faithful and that oh-so-rowdy O’Dome environment, Kentucky flipped a switch and found a way to grind out the 65-54 road victory.
When asked about his thoughts on the game, Florida head coach Mike White was visibly distraught. Devastated, even.
He knew he put in a solid gameplan and his group gave it their all for the vast majority of the game. It just wasn’t enough against an elite opponent like Kentucky.
“Umm…. it’s tough,” he said. “Tough. For (roughly) 30 minutes, we played well enough to… beat a terrific team who has been playing really, really well. We just couldn’t hold on…
“It was a mixture of both offense and defense. Defense failed us in this one probably as much as it has in any of our losses. Most of it has been offense. Some of that is we weren’t able to get out in transition because we couldn’t get any stops. We had a string of missed shots, not enough urgency in transition defense, open three, bucket. We get a big basket, the place is going crazy, we’re in our 1-2-2, three-quarter court zone press, and they just throw it over to a guy who dunks the ball. You know, they deserved to win. Deflating? Yes. Back to work tomorrow? Absolutely.”
What happened down the stretch for Florida to crumble and allow Kentucky to come back and grind out the victory? The Wildcat defense turned it up a notch and made things uncomfortable for the Gators.
“They [Kentucky] made some adjustments,” White said. “They switched a lot and we got a little stagnant. Their bigs did a terrific job of staying in front of the basketball, utilizing their length, both at the perimeter and at the rim. We had some that were right there that just didn’t go for us, the majority of our shots were contested. They were terrific defensively.
“We had a couple of very long dry spells, if I remember correctly, it just felt like we couldn’t score for a couple of days there. Couldn’t find a way. We were trying to generate different ways and we just couldn’t find a way to get it to go for us. Then I thought that it affected our defensive energy a little bit, gave up a dunk in our zone press, a couple kick ahead threes due to a lack of communication. They stepped up and made big shots, we helped them with a few mistakes. You can say “coach, we just made a few of them [mistakes],” but you can’t do that against a Top-10 team. We’ve got to be more accountable defensively. They were terrific defensively.”
White said the team was simply worn out down the stretch, and the Wildcats are to thank for that.
“Yeah, we were fatigued down the stretch,” he said. “I thought we played with a lot of energy, emotion, the place was rocking, and I rode those guys. We’re not the deepest team and I probably rode those guys too many minutes.”
You can check out his somber presser below:
For Kentucky, this won’t be the last time this season they make a trip to take on a talented SEC opponent in front of a hostile crowd. And they may not all turn out like they did against Florida.
After what we saw this evening, along with their four previous road matchups in conference play, however, Kentucky fans have every right to be encouraged. It may be demoralizing to be the villain on the road for the opposition, but it’s been pretty fun on our side of things.