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Kentucky 76, Florida 66: Gators’ win streak ends in Malik Monk firestorm

A streak ends as whistles shriek.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators men’s basketball team made an 8-0 run to begin its attempt at an exceedingly rare win over the Kentucky Wildcats in Rupp Arena, and led 18-6 in the first half. Florida ran out to a 45-37 lead in the second half, too, with Devin Robinson scoring seven of those eight points in a personal 7-0 run.

It didn’t matter.

Kentucky got 33 points from a red-hot Malik Monk and shot 27 free throws to Florida’s six in a 76-66 win that all but secures the SEC title for the Wildcats, erasing the Gators’ leads and keeping itself safely out in front despite game efforts down the strech.

Monk’s showing was almost entirely confined to the second half. In the first, he committed four turnovers and went 1-for-5 from the field, also getting whistled for two fouls. After halftime, he poured in 30 of his 33 points, making all four of his threes and going 10-for-11 from the line. Bam Adebayo — who had 18 points and 15 rebounds, thriving in the absence of Florida’s John Egbunu and steadying Kentucky in the first half — also scored thrice on Monk assists, making the Wildcats’ stellar shooting guard responsible for fully three quarters of Kentucky’s 48 points in the second period.

And Florida couldn’t keep up with that, especially with officiating that assessed nine more fouls on the Gators, allowed the Wildcats to accrue 18 more points at the line, and kept KeVaughn Allen, Chris Chiozza, and Kasey Hill out of the game for long stretches as Mike White sought to keep his players from fouling out. Allen scored 11 points in the first 6:48 of play in the first half, then picked up his second foul moments afterward.

When he left, Florida led 18-6 — and he did not take a shot over the final 13:12 of the first half, seeing its advantage whittled to nothing at halftime. A loose-ball foul on Devin Robinson on an offensive rebound with 0.6 seconds left in the first half allowed Kentucky to tie the game before the break.

Allen would score 13 points in the second half, leading the Gators with 24 on the day and trying desperately to match his Natural State nemesis Monk with threes. But the help he got was not enough: Justin Leon’s 13 points were second-most among Gators, and Robinson’s seven-point spurt accounted for almost all of his nine points, which came on an inefficient 3-for-13 performance. Chiozza’s nine points off the bench gave him more than the seven that Hill and Canyon Barry — who shot a combined 3-for-15 from the field — mustered.

Whether all five of Florida’s starters and Chiozza being whistled for at least three fouls each — with each starter picking up two fouls in the first half — affected their play is up for debate, as the Gators settled into old, bad habits by shooting jumpers while Kentucky cleaned up on the glass. The Gators got 11 offensive rebounds, but that was just less than a quarter of the total available, as Kentucky had an incredible 36 defensive boards, and added 12 offensive boards while missing only 29 shots.

Florida took 18 more shots than Kentucky did on the day, thanks in part to 16 Kentucky turnovers — 10 more than Florida’s six — but made only two more, shooting under 37 percent from the field. And the Gators’ steady diet of jumpers — as well as a lack of favorable calls on their few drives to the rim — left them without the opportunity to eat into Kentucky’s lead at the line, as fully half of their free throws came on a foul on a Robinson three.

The win pushes Kentucky’s SEC record to 14-2, and means that Florida — now 13-3 in SEC play — likely needs to win twice and have Kentucky lose twice in next week’s final stretch of conference games to win its first SEC championship under White.

But it also sets up a potential SEC Tournament final between the Gators and Wildcats — nearly certain to be the No. 2 and No. 1 seeds in the field — as a rubber match between the clear best teams of this year’s SEC.