NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 10: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist #14 of the Kentucky Wildcats looks to pass as Patric Young #4 of the Florida Gators defends in the first half during the semifinals of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at New Orleans Arena on March 10, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Florida played one of its best games of the season against Kentucky last Sunday at home and lost by 15 points to Kentucky. The Gators trumped that game in almost every conceivable fashion on Saturday in the SEC Tournament semifinal ... and lost by three points, 74-71, to Kentucky. The Gators gave everything, and everything was not enough.
Bradley Beal played the best game of his Florida careers. Beal had 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists, a block, and a steal, and made four of his seven threes, flashing the fire, composure, and talent that will make him a top-five pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Savor these final games of the 2011-2012 season: They are almost certainly the last glimpses of Bradley Beal in a Gators uniform that we'll get.
But Erik Murphy matched him, with a career-high 24 points, 4-for-4 shooting from deep, great activity as a driver on offense, and maybe the best defense he's ever played — that it came against Terrence Jones, who pilfered Murphy's lunch, dinner, and going-out money last week, was even better.
Patric Young (10 points, five rebounds) wasn't as good as he was against Kentucky last week, but played admirable defense on Anthony Davis, whose 15 points included a three and two free throws; Davis getting 12 rebounds is to be expected, but Young could have done better. Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, who made four of their combined 19 shots and had a combined 10 points, could have been a lot better, too, but loose officiating helped nullify their exceptionally smart slashing, and it's hard for players their size to do anything against a team as long as Kentucky. That both had four assists speaks to their ability to swallow pride and facilitate.
Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin contributed, too, Prather with a thunderous dunk and Wilbekin with 19 minutes of heady play. Mike Rosario played just two minutes and had just two points, but when Florida's in need of defense, Wilbekin plays the minutes Rosario would otherwise enjoy.
But all of that together felt like about as good a game as Florida can play against Kentucky, and words can't convey how the Gators scrapped, even after a 14-0 run by Kentucky erased a 56-51 lead and swung the game to Big Blue for good. Three times the Gators have tried against the best team in college basketball this season, and three times the Gators have fallen short.
Those games are getting better, though, and the Gators are getting better in them. I would not be opposed to Florida-Kentucky IV — and, proud of and inspired by a Florida team that wants to go take things, I believe it could happen in March. Or April.