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Kentucky 88, Florida 79: Cold Gators assure O'Dome goes out with a whimper

The Gators pulled their cold shooting act one more time.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Florida's promotions and marketing staff did a fine job of milking the "One More Time" theme it used to hype the final men's basketball game in the O'Connell Center before a renovation that will stretch from late March until December, and remake what was once called the "House of Horrors" into a shiny new facility.

The Gators responded by playing the same sort of basketball they have for the last fortnight — and their one more time produced one more loss, an 88-79 defeat at the hands of Kentucky.

The Wildcats controlled the game, leading without interruption from early in the first half. Florida rallies whittled Kentucky's advantage to two points late in the first half and early in the second period, but a subsequent 10-2 run by the Wildcats gave them a lead that would never dwindle below seven points for the rest of the night.

Blame it on Florida's tired inability to stop its opposition from shooting the lights out (Kentucky shot 52.7 percent from the floor, and 70 percent from three) or compensate for defensive inefficiency with its own shooting from the floor (Florida shot 42.6 percent from the floor and 27.8 percent from three, both numbers boosted by meaningless scoring in the final minutes) or at the line (the Gators were an atrocious 16-for-37 on free throws). Kentucky may have poured 1.19 points per possession on the once-proud Gators defense, but Florida could also have made that up by making just seven of 18 threes and 19 of 37 free throws; instead, the Gators largely squandered 16 offensive rebounds, matching Kentucky's 29 made field goals but missing 13 more shots and making two fewer threes on eight more attempts.

The Gators found consistent scoring by dumping the ball to John Egbunu down low, who rained dunks and got nylon on a couple of nifty under-the-basket moves en route to a career-high 27 points. But Egbunu could have had 30 or more points had he not gone 3-for-11 at the charity stripe, and no Gator stepped up to help him out until it was too late, with Dorian Finney-Smith and KeVaughn Allen's 15 points apiece swollen by made threes in the final minute and five points per player over the final 2:46 of play.

And Kentucky's balance and steadiness — five Wildcats scored 11 or more points, every Wildcat that attempted a shot made at least 41.7 percent of his field goals, and Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis combined for 40 points on just 20 shots, with each hitting seven free throws in the second half — made the Wildcats nearly invulnerable to a cold spell that would have helped the Gators.

Instead, Florida continued its ponderous wander in the wilderness, a late-season swoon that has seen the Gators largely abandon Mike White's pressing defense and morph from a stellar defensive team with glaring offensive weaknesses into an iffy defensive team with slightly less glaring offensive weaknesses. And the recriminations and frustrations that have permeated the Florida fan base seem to have sapped much of the life from a team that alternately looks like it is fighting to go out on its shield and so exhausted that it cannot even cogitate competence.

Florida has slipped from what was solid positioning for the 2016 NCAA Tournament to the outside looking in, and has only a regular season road finale at Missouri and the SEC Tournament left to reverse its recent fortunes and try to right its ship. With faith in the captain and crew at an all-time low, it would be advisable for the Gators to pull together for one last push toward March Madness.