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Sunday March 4, 2012Gators Come Up Short vs. Top-Ranked Kentucky

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Down by four with nine minutes to go against the No. 1-ranked team in the country and the home crowd about to blow the roof off the building. 

 

Given their depth problems and the pronounced discrepancy in talent, the No. 16 Florida Gators really could not have asked for much more in their showdown Sunday against the powerful Kentucky Wildcats. 

 

They just needed much more. 

 

Certainly more than the four points they scored the rest of the way. 

 

Freshman forward Anthony Davis scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, grabbed 12 rebounds, blocked six shots and was smack in the middle of the action as the Wildcats closed out the Gators for a 74-59 victory in front of a sold-out O’Connell Center crowd of 12,113 at the regular-season finale for both teams.

 

For Florida (22-9, 10-6), the loss was its third straight and locked the Gators into the No. 4 seed of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, which starts Thursday in New Orleans. UF, with a bye in the opening round, will play the winner of the first-day matchup between surging and fifth-seeded Alabama (20-10) and bottom-seeded South Carolina (10-20). 

 

“It’s a new season,” forward Erik Murphy said.  

 

The Wildcats (30-1) won the old one going away, becoming the first team to go 16-0 in SEC play since UK did it in 2003. 

 

“They just have a really good team,” UF senior point guard Erving Walker said after the final home game of his magnificent career. “In all facets.” 

 

The 6-foot-10 Davis, a favorite to win National Player of the Year and be the top choice in the NBA draft, made nine of 13 shots, scored off all three of his offensive rebounds and patrolled the paint like the defensive centerpiece he’s become for a team poised to make a run at the national championship. 

 

UK forward Terrence Jones scored 19 points, also on 9-for-13 shooting, and added three blocks and a couple steals, while point guard Marquis Teague threw in 12 points and had four assists. 

 

The Gators got 21 points and nine rebounds from center Patric Young, who played his finest all-around game of this season. Young, whose season has been marred with inconsistency and too much talk about a six-week-old ankle injury, went aggressively at UK’s all-star front line, making 10 of 15 shots in 35 minutes. 

 

“I’ve been struggling to score inside lately,” Young said. “But maybe after [today], the future looks bright.” 

 

Murphy had 14 points, eight rebounds and a couple assists, but the next-best Gator in the scoring column was Walker with just eight points (on 3-for-11 shooting) and five assists. Leading scorer Kenny Boynton, benched from the starting lineup for the game’s first four minutes for being late to a Saturday team meeting, scored seven points and freshman Bradley Beal, the squad’s No. 2 scorer, had just five points after going 1-for-10 from the floor. 

 

“We had good looks,” Coach Billy Donovan. 

 

Opponents don’t get many of those against the Wildcats and a defense ranked first in the league in scoring (58.2 points per game) and field-goal percentage (38.7). The Gators finished right at that scoring number and shot 38.2 percent for the game, including 6-for-22 from the 3-point line (27.3 percent). 

 

“That’s as good as we’ve played all year,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. 

 

The game started with Jones scoring his team’s first eight points, going right at Murphy each time. UF was down 11-4 quickly, but rallied to go up 14-13 on a Young tip-in that was the home team’s only lead of the game. 

 

On the way to shooting 54 percent in the first half, the Wildcats led 40-32 at halftime, but UF’s 12-6 spree to start the second half made it a two-point game, at 46-44, when Young dunked off a Beal pass in transition. 

 

UK took a timeout and out of the break scored eight straight points to stretch the margin back to 10, but the Gators staved off that danger-zone, with back-to-back baskets from Young making it a 59-55 game with 9 minutes to go. 

 

Florida made one field goal on 14 attempts the rest of the way. 

 

Kentucky had something to do with that. 

 

“When you get in the lane, you don’t see much except a bunch of arms,” Murphy said. “They just have so much size across the board.” 

 

“They really clamped down and played good defense,” Walker said. “We also got some clean open looks from three and just did not knock them down.”

 

Donovan liked most of the shots his team worked for in the final minutes. 

 

“About as good as you’re going to get against them,” he said. 

 

Against Kentucky, some of them have to fall. The opportunities to be in the game -- and stay in the game -- are going to be few. 

 

“If you do break down defensively against them, you are going to pay,” Donovan said. “Bu they also have the ability, when you guard them the way you want to guard them, to still make you pay. Whether it’s a timely 3 or a post move or an offensive rebound, there’s just an incredible focus on their part to be able to do those things.” 

 

A put-back by Davis and 3-pointer from Jones popped that four-point margin back to nine very quickly, as the Gators didn’t score again inside that 9-minute mark until Murphy knocked down a pair of free throws at 4:28 to cut the lead 11.

 

The next Gators points came when Walker made a driving layup with 59 seconds to go. 

 

“We were so close there when we got it to four points,” Young said. “Maybe we can use this and look to the SEC Tournament.” 

 

Playing the Wildcats close for 31 minutes didn’t do anything for Walker. And it won’t do anything for the Gators -- or anyone -- going forward. 

 

“Not at this point in the season. It’s about wins and losses,” he said. “It’s one-and-done situations from now on, so we got to come up with the win.”

 

 

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