Cats rally in second half to down Gators

Published 12:19 pm Monday, January 8, 2024

By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

Kentucky took the chomp out of the Florida Gators down the stretch and escaped with an 87-85 victory in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams on Saturday in Gainesville.

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The Wildcats (11-2, 1-0 SEC) won their fifth straight and ninth in the past 10 games and snapped the Gators’ six-game winnings steak. Seeking its first signature win under coach Todd Golden, Florida fell to 10-4.

“This is where you find out where you are right now,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “I don’t care if they’re young. They’re dogs. They have a will to win.”

Florida led for most of the game until the final two minutes when the sixth-ranked Wildcats took the lead on freshman Aaron Bradshaw’s 3-pointer with 1:40 remaining that gave Kentucky a 79-76 advantage.

“You shoot so many free throws, so you’ve got to zone everything out and step up to the line and shoot the ball with confidence,” Sheppard said.

From that point on, Kentucky made eight of 10 free throws, including six in a row by Reed Sheppard in the final 19 seconds to hold off the gritty Gators.

“You shoot so many free throws, so you’ve got to zone everything out and step up to the line and shoot the ball with confidence,” Sheppard said

Antonio Reeves led Kentucky with 19 points and made a clutch 3-pointer with two minutes remaining that tied the score at 76-76 and paved the way for late comeback. Sheppard and D.J. Wagner scored 14 points each, followed by Tre Mitchell with a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Bradshaw finished with 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

Mitchell did all of his scoring in the first half and helped the Wildcats avoid a total collapse in the the team’s first conference road test. Wagner scored 10 of Kentucky’s first 17 points to open the second half that helped set the stage for the late heroics.

Kentucky sophomore Adou Thiero missed his second straight game because of what the school termed as “general soreness.”

Florida made eight shots from long range in the opening half and led by 11 late in the first half. The Gators weren’t as successful in the second half and made just one 3-pointer on 11 attempts.

“We gave them so many open threes and they’re going to make them,’ Calipari said. “So our thing in the second half was, we aren’t doing that. That’s not who we are. And the guys locked down defensively and played.”

Walter Clayton Jr. and Zyon Pullin led the Gators with 23 points each. Riley Kugel finished with 15 points and Alex Condon chipped in with 10.

Gametracker: Missouri at Kentucky, 7 p.m., Tuesday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.