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Kentucky 68, Florida 61: Gators falter late, at line in valiant effort against Goliath

Florida just didn't have enough to hang with the best team in college basketball for 40 minutes.

Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Florida had a halftime lead, a three-point lead in the second half, and just a three-point deficit to erase at the under-four timeout against mighty Kentucky on Saturday night.

But the Gators didn't get a win.

Kentucky wore down Florida and feasted at the free throw line, making 21 of 22 foul shots, in a 68-61 victory that will be remembered for a frustrating ending as much as Florida's fiery play.

The Gators raced to a nine-point lead in the first half, and led for 17:01 of the period, as Michael Frazier II scored 10 points, Dorian Finney-Smith added five, and Chris Chiozza — who capped the half with a brilliant save of an errant pass in the backcourt that turned into a layup in the frontcourt and gave Florida its 30-28 halftime lead — chipped in four.

Kentucky began the second half with an easy bucket on a blown zone defense, and took back the lead at 39-38, just before the under-16 timeout, after thrilling back-and-forth offensive play to open the half.

But after Kentucky added a three to that total, Florida punched back with a 6-0 run spanning exactly a minute of game clock, only for Kentucky to get an and-one from a vicious Willie Cauley-Stein dunk on Devin Robinson and take back the lead.

From there, the Wildcats wouldn't relinquish it, despite scoring only on two dunks and two jumpers. The other 16 Kentucky points of the final 14:01 in the O'Connell Center came on just 17 free throws, and the Wildcats — who had shot just 69 percent from the line as a team entering Saturday — wouldn't miss a freebie until the game's final minute.

Florida, on the other hand, made just half of its 14 free throws, and Kasey Hill, Chris Walker, and Jon Horford (a 90 percent foul shooter prior to tonight) all missed both shots on shooting fouls.

Both teams' fans have legitimate gripes with the referees for uneven calls, but the men in stripes assessed 20 fouls on the Gators to Kentucky's 15, and the two biggest misses of the night came on a Karl-Anthony Towns shove Walker that created an easy alley-oop opportunity and a phantom traveling call on Horford while he was dribbling under the basket in a four-point game.

And even with the fouls, Florida might well have made it closer, or even won, if not for an ankle injury that sidelined Frazier for much of the second half. He didn't score after intermission, and though Eli Carter caped up and scored nine points in the second half in his absence, Frazier's shooting was sorely missed.

With the loss, Florida falls to 12-11, and Kentucky moves to 23-0.

A lot changes in a year in college basketball — and Florida's faint hopes of making the NCAA Tournament a year after being named the field's No. 1 overall seed are proof of that as much as Kentucky's incredible run of form a year after an inconsistent showing as the preseason No. 1 team is.