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Kentucky 76, Florida 58: Gators mauled by resurgent Wildcats

Florida wasn’t ready for full-strength Kentucky’s best swipes.

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

The Florida Gators came out hot against the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday in Gainesville, leading 5-0, 7-2, and 10-5 in the very early goings of their SEC showdown.

Then a net came loose, leading to an extended delay of play.

And after it, the Wildcats attacked with a ferocity Florida ultimately couldn’t handle.

Kentucky slowly built a first-half lead that would stand at eight points at intermission, then peeled off separate 10-0 and 13-0 runs in the second half to blow out the Gators, 76-58, in a game not nearly as close as its score.

Six Wildcats scored nine or more points, with four — including Keion Brooks, Jr., who made his splashy season debut after a foot injury by contributing 12 points on just six shots, six rebounds, and four assists off the bench — getting to double figures, and Kentucky’s defense held Florida to a miserable 12-for-36 performance inside the arc and forced 16 turnovers, 10 of them steals that fueled a strong transition game.

Florida, by contrast, got just two players into double figures: Anthony Duruji, the only Gator who was consistently competitive on the day, had 15 points, and Tyree Appleby scored 10 on nine shots. Scottie Lewis had just two points on four shots, while Tre Mann and Colin Castleton combined for 13 on 17 attempts.

If poor defense — Kentucky shot 59 percent inside the arc — was most of why the Wildcats won, poor offense was why the game got lopsided. The Gators could not find any rhythm in the game’s final 30 minutes, and were outscored by a whopping 57-21 count from the 10:32 mark of the first half to the 8:03 mark of the second frame, a span that featured buckets on back-to-back possessions just once.

Florida falls to 2-2 and back to the middle of the pack in the SEC after being one of just three undefeateds in the league after one week of play — but its losses have now come to the other two teams that survived that first week unscathed and played more than one game, each a bona fide NCAA Tournament outfit at its current level. (Kentucky will have to do significant work in SEC play to reach March Madness, but was impressive in this win.)

Worse, those losses have been blowouts in which the Gators just didn’t seem to have answers for better squads, for reasons both related to the absence of Keyontae Johnson and not. And an identity that was being forged as recently as seven days ago now seems to have been shattered.

Once again, these Gators are left to determine who and what they want to be.