Kentucky went down to Gainesville and ripped a victory from the Gators’ teeth by erasing an 11-point deficit to win by 11 points. It was one of the most impressive games of the entire season, considering the resiliency shown by the Cats against a great defensive team playing in front of arguably its best home environment of the year.
Florida’s defense was successful in disrupting Kentucky’s offense, but it couldn’t do enough to outplay Kentucky for an entire 40-minute game. In the end, the better team won the game because the better team wouldn’t quit.
Takeaways from the game…
Tyler Herro was Kentucky’s only weapon in the first half.
After back-to-back ice cold shooting performances against Kansas and Vanderbilt, Tyler Herro found his hot hand to open the game in Gainesville. It’s a good thing he did, too, because everyone else couldn’t hit the broad side of a Liquor Barn (Kentucky’s favorite beverage store for more than 30 years! #ad).
At one point in the game, right at the under 8:00 timeout, Herro was 4-for-4 from the field with 10 points, while the rest of the team was 2-for-16 from the field with a grand total of six points. Herro had the only made three-pointers when he went to the bench with his second foul, while his teammates missed their first 11 three-point tries (many on wide open looks) until Immanuel Quickley finally got one to fall, on his fifth attempt, in the final minute of the first half.
Without Herro, Kentucky’s first half shooting numbers would’ve been 8-for-30 from the field and 1-for-13 from outside.
The start of the second half was ugly.
Trailing by four to start the second half, Kentucky needed a hot start to gain control of the game and avoid falling into a larger deficit, but it was more of the same right out of halftime. Kentucky turned the ball over four times in five minutes to start the second half, allowing Florida to get out on a 9-0 run, which is the exact opposite of what we wanted to see. Kentucky had only one made basket in the first seven minutes as the Gators extended its lead to 11 points. Things were looking bleak, but then things got awesome.
Kentucky looked adversity in the face and kicked its ass.
One of the traits of a championship team is it keeps fighting when things aren’t going its way. When Kentucky wasn’t making shots, it could’ve checked out and started thinking about the flight home. Many teams would’ve done that; Kentucky did not. Kentucky only played harder when it got down by double digits and then eventually the shots started to fall. When that happened, it was night-night for Florida. UK’s defense kept the Gators from counterpunching and the Cats closed out the game with a 34-12 run.
PJ Washington shined yet again.
The light came on for PJ Washington a couple games ago, according to his head coach. Calipari said he noticed it first in practices in how Washington competed in drills and committed to conditioning, and it’s made him a completely different player on the court.
Washington was a fighter from the moment the ball was tipped down in Gainesville and he played his heart out the entire game, no matter the situation or the score. The shot wasn’t falling early, but he kept battling and kept fighting for balls and the end result was a win and yet another double-double, his third in a row.
He’s one of the best players in country right now and only he can get in his way.
Like Brad Calipari’s jacket, we saw two different versions of Keldon Johnson.
First Half Keldon Johnson was not fun to watch. In the opening minutes of the game, he took it to the rack on three straight possessions, only to have all three shots swatted a different direction. He also missed two deep balls and went to the half with only two points and little impact on the game.
Second Half Keldon Johnson, though; he was a blast. Second Half Keldon Johnson was much more active on the glass — he finished with eight rebounds — and involved in the game. He also hit two big three-pointers, one of which gave Kentucky the lead for the first time in the second half and for the final time in the game.
It silenced the home crowd.
Johnson said, “We had to get settled down, calm down, and play basketball. That’s what I did in the second half and I got things going a little bit.”
Or as Kenny Payne would say, he woke his ass up.
EJ Montgomery made quiet plays that won the game.
In his return to his home state, Montgomery played only 10 minutes against the Gators, but it was a big 10 minutes. Calipari went as far to say Montgomery changed the game in limited action. He said, “I’m so happy for EJ Montgomery because I thought he was the difference in the game. We needed one more big guy to do something, to go get balls, to come up off the floor, to be active defensively; he guarded the ball.”
Florida’s head coach, Mike White, said Montgomery’s rebounds were “deflating” to Florida’s efforts. Tyler Herro said he and his teammates fed off Montgomery’s energy. It was a quiet but important performance from the freshman big guy.
Kentucky’s defense is elite.
Remember when it sucked? Now it’s one of the best in all of college basketball.
(And defense wins championships, ya know.)
A No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is still up for grabs.
With eight straight wins, including four impressive road victories, Kentucky’s resume is looking as good as anyone’s right now. If the Cats can defend home court the rest of the season and win three of the four remaining road games, it will likely earn a top seed in the tournament and all will be forgotten from that dark November night in Indianapolis. Speaking of that, if you’re like me and you completely eliminated the Indianapolis game from your memory, Kentucky is 18-2 with the two losses coming by a total of three points. How’s that for a season????
Kentucky’s really good, folks. Like, really, really, really good. The next two months are going to be an exciting ride.