Jacksonville Sports Day

SEC: No 11 Kentucky Wins Showdown Against Florida

LEXINGTON, Ky. — No. 11 Kentucky took control of the Southeastern Conference race on Saturday with a 76-66 win over No. 13 Florida at Rupp Arena. Kentucky (24-5, 14-2 SEC) now holds a one-game lead over Florida (23-6, 13-3) with two games to play. If the Wildcats beat Vanderbilt on Tuesday and Texas A&M next Saturday, they will win the SEC regular season crown for the 48th time in school history.

The story of the day was Kentucky freshman guard Malik Monk, who scored 30 of his 33 points in the second half.

“He got 30 in a half?” Kentucky coach John Calipari asked. “No wonder when I got on him about a couple bad shots he looked at me like I was crazy. I didn’t know he had 30 in a half. Good for him.”

Monk’s scoring spree helped to ignite a 26-8 run over that pushed the Wildcats from a 52-44 deficit to a 70-60 lead with 3:48 to play. Monk had 30 when Kentucky grabbed its first double-digit lead.

“He took over the game, he was amazing,” Florida coach Mike White said. “It was probably the best performance against us all year.”

Kentucky also got 18 points and 15 rebounds from freshman forward Bam Adebayo. Coupled with Tuesday’s win at Missouri, Adebayo has 40 points and 30 rebounds over the last two wins. Sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe had nine points and eight rebounds. The Wildcats shot 64 percent in the second half after making just 28.6 in the first half.

“The biggest thing this team did is they fought in the second half,” Calipari said. “Think about it, we shot 28 percent at halftime. Twenty-eight percent. We must have missed nine layups. And we’re in a tie game. That means you’re fighting, that means you’re giving yourself a chance to win.”

Kentucky got the victory despite the absence of starting point guard De’Aaron Fox, who is nursing a bruised knee.

“If he had played he would have been 70 percent. So I really wanted us to play the game without him,” Calipari said. “That’s good for this team to know, you could have foul trouble, you could have an injury, something could happen, you can still win if you’re playing the right way. If you’re creating good shots for each other. If you’re defending and rebounding like crazy, flying to get easy baskets.”

Florida got 24 points from sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen and 13 from senior forward Justin Leon. The Gators shot 36.6 percent.

Florida lost the game despite jumping out to an 8-0 lead in the first two minutes as Allen and Leon each hit 3-pointers. Kentucky, meanwhile, missed its first seven shots and had three turnovers.

The Wildcats did not score until Adebayo’s two free throws at the 16:23 mark.

Kentucky’s first field goal did not come until 15:36 on an offensive rebound by Adebayo that made it 8-4.

Florida pushed its lead to 18-6 with Allen scoring 11 points. Florida was 7 of 13 at the time, Kentucky 2 of 11. But then the Wildcats went on a 10-0 run to make it 18-16 with 9:18 left. Briscoe had five points while Florida missed eight straight shots during that period.

Kentucky finally clawed its way back to tie at 21-21 on a 3-pointer by Monk. The Wildcats grabbed their first lead on a lob from Monk to Adebayo for the jam at 7:04.  The two teams went ice cold down the stretch as the half ended in a 28-28 tie. Florida shot 29.7 percent on 11 of 37 while Kentucky shot 28.6 on 8 of 28.

Allen topped Florida with 14 points and Leon had 10 as the duo accounted for 24 of the Gators’ 28.

“The way we finished the first half, it just wasn’t very solid,” White said. “We needed to be the more mature team and we didn’t take advantage in that regard.”

SEC NOTES: Kentucky is now 48-21 under coach John Calipari when playing a ranked opponent. … Saturday’s victory was the 100th for Kentucky over Florida. The Wildcats are 100-38 all-time, including 51-9 in Lexington. … Despite being Florida’s leading scorer at 13.6 points, KeVaughn Allen has led the Gators in scoring in only one game this year, scoring 26 on Tuesday at South Carolina

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