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Kentucky 71, Florida 70: Gators’ second-half collapse mars Senior Day

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From perhaps their highest high, the Gators fell to maybe their lowest low.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This week, the Kentucky Wildcats ruined two Senior Days.

The Florida Gators just got to be part of the second one.

On Tuesday, the Wildcats blew a 17-point lead and fell on Senior Day to Tennessee. On Saturday, without point guard Ashton Hagans, they took an 18-point Florida lead and methodically erased it, scoring 32 points in the final 12 minutes of play and capping their resurrection with a putback from EJ Montgomery — who scored half of his four points on that go-ahead bucket — with 11.6 seconds left to take their only lead of the game.

Florida had spent much of the final 12 minutes of the second half frantically and futilely defending that lead, after spending the first 28 minutes of regulation building it. Even without a single point from Kerry Blackshear, kept off the board by strong Kentucky defense and then kept on the bench by a wrist injury that ended his first half early and limited his second half to a cameo, the Gators led 7-0, 20-9, 25-14, and 40-30 in the first half, with Scottie Lewis’s 13 points before halftime — part of a career-best 19 — helping pace a team that was scoring at all three levels.

And Florida would extend that lead in the second half, even after a 5-0 salvo from Kentucky to begin it. Noah Locke made a three immediately after that run, and then finished what would be an extended 19-6 Florida run with a three-point play at that 11:55 mark.

In the interim, Kentucky’s Immanuel Quickley picked up his fourth foul, and John Calipari his second technical — not an ejectable offense, to the surprise of many, because his first technical was for wandering out of the coach’s box after a warning — and Florida had picked up what looked like insurmountable momentum.

Only Kentucky was unstoppable down the stretch. From that 57-39 hole, the Wildcats scored on 13 straight offensive possessions, with Nick Richards — who had 17 of his 19 points in the second half — thwarting every coverage the Gators tried.

And yet Florida still had not just possession but a good chance to win at that stage, having just scored half of the mere four points it would muster in the final five minutes to go up 70-67. But Andrew Nembhard, who appeared to be fouled on a drive, would miss that layup, leading to a Keion Brooks layup that cut Florida’s margin to one.

And then Florida’s next possession — which began with what looked like Keyontae Johnson being fouled on a drive — dissolved as Nembhard drove into resistance and had to kick out to Lewis, who fumbled away a best chance at an open three.

And then Kentucky made good on its last chance to take the lead, with Montgomery getting a putback over a mass of humanity that was ruled good after an initial call of offensive interference.

And then Nembhard drove hard to the hoop, left his feet, and threw a pass to Locke in the corner — only for him to fumble it away.

And then, at the very end, after Richards bounced the front end of a 1-and-1 — one of just two Kentucky misses at the foul line on the day — and gave Florida one final chance?Nembhard got an open look at a 26-foot three, one that rolled around every part of the rim but never fell into it.

And so Florida fell, thudding from maybe its highest high to its lowest low.

It will be a Senior Day remembered by all in attendance.

Few in orange and blue will recall it fondly.