A year ago, Florida topped Kentucky three times en route to a perfect -- 21-0 -- mark in conference play.
The historic record might not long.
The top-ranked Wildcats exacted a bit of revenge Saturday night, slipping past the Gators 68-61 and continuing their undefeated streak.
UK (23-0, 10-0 SEC) won in the O’Connell Center for just the third time in 11 tries, but a gritty victory didn’t come easy.
Undermanned and undersized, Florida (12-11, 5-5 SEC) fought throughout but couldn’t quite pull off the shocker, as Kentucky sprinted on a 9-2 run to stave off the upset.
“I’m disappointed in my team. I really am,” UF coach Billy Donovan said.
“Not from this game at all, but for the first time I felt in 23 games we played to win. I felt we played as a team tonight. First time in 23 games.”
Florida moved to just 2-11 all-time against No. 1 ranked teams -- with all 11 losses coming against Kentucky, and its faint NCAA Tournament hopes took another shot.
Four Wildcats -- Karl-Anthony Towns (17), Willie Cauley-Stein (13), Aaron Harrison (23) and Devin Booker (12) -- combined for 67 points, as Andrew Harrison was nearly held scoreless until a late free throw.
Dorian Finney-Smith led the Gators with 16 points, while sophomore guard Kasey Hill chipped in 12 points and six assists, but it wasn’t enough.
The Gators actually led 30-28 at halftime after freshman guard Chris Chiozza tossed in a wild layup to end a four-minute scoreless drought.
UF opened the primetime contest super sharp, jumping out to a 20-11 lead thanks to some spirited energy, defensive composure and solid execution. For the first time all year, Donovan’s famous pick and roll offense looked fluid, and the Gators did an excellent job rotating inside and keeping the Cats off the offensive glass.
UF sharpshooter Michael Frazier came out firing in the first half, scoring 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting. But the junior wingman was hobbled by a sprained right ankle, never scoring again and watching the nail-bitter from the bench for much of the second half.
“If you look at this they play a lot of the game without Frazier. He plays 23 minutes and they still have a chance to beat us,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
“That tells you what kind of game Florida played tonight. They played to win and they fought. … We’re going to keep taking everyone’s best. It’s like a championship fight [every night.]"
UK hit its first four shots after halftime, slowly exerting its will (and size) inside.
Still, Florida carried a lead (44-42) midway through the second half, only to lose all control after Cauley-Stein posterized Devin Robinson on a fast break slam.
Only the Gators simply wouldn’t go away.
Up against a wall, Florida continued to fight despite a clear talent disadvantage.
Every time the nation’s top team connected on a momentum-changing alley-oop or 3-pointer, UF answered.
Ultimately though, Florida ran out of gas and Kentucky won the game at the charity stripe.
The Cats were nearly perfect (21-of-22) from free throw line. Meanwhile, UF hit just half of its free throws (7-of-14), including missing the front-end of two 1-and-1’s late.
“We had our opportunities,” Donovan said. “The difference in the game was the free throw line. We go 0-for-4 down the stretch. … That was really the difference in the game.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ The O’Connell Center transformed into a nightclub scene during pregame introductions, as the lights went dark and fans waved orange and blue glow sticks.
▪ UF is now 1-11 this season when allowing over 60 points.