Kentucky basketball breaks down Florida's defense in 2nd half for its 6th straight SEC win
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Florida’s calling card this season has been its defense. Entering Saturday’s game at Kentucky, the Gators ranked eighth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency — 11 of their last 12 foes were held to, or below, 40% shooting from the field. To extend that run of success, Florida had two defensive keys for Saturday's game at Kentucky: badger Wildcat star Oscar Tshiebwe, and limit 3-point looks.
Check and check.
Tshiebwe had one of the worst outings of his career offensively, going 2 of 14 from the field for four points before fouling out. And UK only shot 11 treys, making five.
But the Wildcats shrugged at the Gators' defensive excellence Saturday, coming away with a 72-67 victory at Rupp Arena via stellar second-half shooting.
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Kentucky (15-7, 7-3 SEC), which won its sixth conference game in a row, made 45.2% (28 for 62) of its shots in the win. After shooting 38.2% (13 of 34) in the opening 20 minutes, the Wildcats connected on 53.6% (15 for 28) of their shots from the field in the second half.
But Tshiebwe — UK's leading scorer — was not alone in his struggles against the Gators' defense. Senior guard Antonio Reeves, Kentucky's second-leading scorer, also had just four points Saturday.
As Tshiebwe battled 6-foot-11 Florida center Colin Castleton with limited returns, and Reeves attempted only five shots (making two), other Wildcats picked up the slack. Three in particular stepped up: freshman guard Cason Wallace (20 points), senior forward Jacob Toppin (17) and senior guard CJ Fredrick (12).
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"They were doing good on Oscar, taking him away," said Wallace, who also had a career-best three blocked shots. "But every team has their flaws."
Wallace, specifically, impressed first-year Florida coach Todd Golden.
"He played great. I would say he beat the scout a little bit in terms of what I instructed our guys to do," Golden said. "I thought for the most part, our guys executed our defensive coverages, but he stepped up and made some big shots, right? He was 7 for 10 from the field. Hit a big-time 3, which is a shot we've got to live with against this team. Made all his free throws. Pretty sure he made three or four mid-range jump shots.
"You've got to pick what you're gonna give up against a team like this. I'm always going to be OK with the opposing team shooting mid-range shots, and you've got to tip your cap when they beat you."
Wallace scored 10 of Kentucky's final 16 points. He knocked down a 3. He blew past Castleton — freezing the big man with a hesitation move — en route to a wide-open layup. And he sank all three free throws he attempted in the second half.
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With Kentucky up 33-22 at halftime, coach John Calipari challenged his team to up the tempo after intermission. And the Wildcats responded.
On a night where the program honored the late Kentucky great Mike Pratt, who died last year at the age of 73, by raising his No. 22 jersey to the rafters during a halftime ceremony, Calipari saw signs everywhere.
The Gators (13-10, 6-4) had 22 points at the half.
And Wallace, Kentucky's leading scorer for the night — and who scored the final two points in the win, knocking down a pair of free throws — wears No. 22.
"You don't think Mike was up there tipping balls away? Think about that," Calipari said. "One of the nicest people. (A) kind heart. … I'm just happy for him."
Reach Kentucky men’s basketball and football reporter Ryan Black at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @RyanABlack.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky vs Florida college basketball: Wildcats win seventh SEC game