Game day: No. 7 Kentucky 71, Florida 63
Click below for more of the Herald-Leader’s and Kentucky.com’s coverage of Saturday’s men’s basketball game between Kentucky and Florida in Gainesville, Fla.
Before facing Kentucky on Saturday, Florida guard Tyree Appleby summed up the challenge Oscar Tshiebwe presented.
“Oscar, he is a monster on the boards,” Appleby said.
The monster roared in leading Kentucky to a 71-63 victory that gave Kentucky a share of second-place in the Southeastern Conference and kept Florida’s hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid problematic at best.
Of course, the roar was not rare.
Tshiebwe’s 27 points and 14 rebounds marked his 13th straight double-double and 25th of the season.
This put Tshiebwe in the company of arguably Kentucky’s most celebrated player, All-American Dan Issel. No UK player had posted 12 straight double-doubles since Issel in 1969-70.
Tshiebwe also moved within one of Issel’s UK record of 26 total double-doubles posted in 1969-70.
Speaking of Issel, Tshiebwe flirted with another of the All-American’s marks. Issel is the last UK player to have at least 30 points and at least 18 rebounds in an SEC road game. Issel had 53 points and 19 rebounds at Ole Miss on Feb. 7, 1970.
Kentucky improved to 25-6 overall and 14-4 in the SEC. Tennessee, also 14-4, will be the second seed in the league tournament by virtue of having defeated regular-season champion Auburn.
Florida fell to 19-12 overall, 9-9 in the SEC and 2-9 in Quad 1 games.
Florida might have been the team motivated by seeing beating Kentucky as a signature victory that would assure an NCAA Tournament bid. But Kentucky was clearly superior in the first half.
UK never trailed en route to a 38-26 lead at the break.
Tshiebwe, who had 27 points and 19 rebounds in the first game against Florida, led the way in the first half with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Florida got a boost in the return of Anthony Duruji. After missing the last two games because of an ankle injury, he scored nine points in the first half.
So did Florida “big” Colin Castleton, whose five shots inside the first five minutes suggested the Gators hoped to get Tshiebwe in early foul trouble. Castleton had been productive since his Feb. 5 return to the lineup after missing six games with a shoulder injury, averaging 17.5 points and 9.0 rebounds in the eight games since then.
Castleton finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds. But he did not get Tshiebwe in foul trouble.
Kentucky scored the game’s first seven points, then used a 9-0 run to extend the lead to 25-11.
Kentucky’s first-half lead twice expanded to 16 points, the second time on a Tshiebwe shot from the foul line area that put UK ahead 32-16 with six minutes left.
Florida, which barely made a third of its first-half shots (11 of 30), scored eight straight points to reduce UK’s lead to 32-26.
Then Tshiebwe sandwiched a Kellan Grady floater with a dunk and two free throws inside the final 2:23.
Florida did not go away. When the Gators scored the first six points of the second half to reduce the lead to 38-31, UK called time with 18:41 left. UK’s last offensive possession had been an awkward Tshiebwe drive that did not result in a makeable shot.
Surely not coincidentally, Kentucky went to Tshiebwe in the post at this important juncture. He took a pass from TyTy Washington and scored from the right post.
“Good answer to have,” CBS analyst Clark Kellogg exclaimed.
That began a streak in which Tshiebwe scored Kentucky’s first 11 points of the second half. That put UK ahead 49-37.
The first second-half points scored by a UK player other than Tshiebwe came with 13:43 left when Davion Mintz made a jumper with 13:43 left.
Not for the first time, Kentucky stumbled down the stretch. Three UK turnovers helped Florida cut a 12-point deficit in half with 52 seconds left.
From there, UK secured the victory by making six of eight free throws.