Complete (18)0: Kentucky rallies to defeat Florida in Gainesville


Kentucky sophomore forward EJ Montgomery gets excited in the huddle before the game against Tennessee on Tuesday, March 3, 2020, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Tennessee won 81-73. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Braden Ramsey

My, how the turn tables.

Just five days after giving up a 17-point lead versus Tennessee, Kentucky one-upped the Vols by climbing back from an 18-point second-half deficit to knock off Florida 71-70 on the road.

The comeback is the largest for the Cats since they overcame a 19-point Vanderbilt lead in February 2017. Oddly enough, that deficit was the same as Kentucky’s record this year (25-6). 

The day did not get off to a good start, as it was revealed that point guard Ashton Hagans (personal reasons) had not traveled for the game. That was compounded when the Gators scored the first seven points, forcing coach John Calipari to call a timeout just 100 seconds into the game.

Florida (19-12) built its early lead on the back of Scottie Lewis. The guard came in averaging 8.1 points per game, but had nine just over ten minutes in. He ended with 13 in the first half on 4-of-5 shooting, and the Gators led 40-30 at the break.

The margin stayed in the eight-to-ten range for the beginning of the second half. Coach Cal was called for a technical foul, and the Gators then busted it open, going up 57-39 on a 7-0 run with a smidge under twelve minutes remaining.

Like Tuesday’s game though, the action was just beginning.

Immanuel Quickley – the team’s most productive player for the past month – fouled out with 9:04 remaining. But Kentucky crawled back, cutting the Gator advantage to ten with 8:34 left, and to 10 again with 8:10 to go. It closed to five at 4:35, and three at 3:46. A Nick Richards jumper made it a one-point game with 2:28 and counting.

A quick layup from Keyontae Johnson boosted it to three once more, before Keion Brooks Jr. scored with 59 seconds left. That’s when Kentucky’s defense stepped up the most, forcing a shot clock violation on the next Florida possession to give the Cats their first opportunity of the day to go in front.

Brooks Jr.’s shot didn’t connect, but EJ Mongomery flew in from the right side, jumped, got his left hand on the ball, and tipped it in. But he was called for basket interference on the play.

The moment nearly spelled heartbreak for the Cats a second time in the week. But the officials decided to go to the monitor, and determined the ball had come out of the cylinder before Montgomery’s fingers got to it. The basket counted, and the Cats had their first lead with eleven seconds to go.

Florida turned it over as the clock ticked to four seconds, but got the ball one final time and missed a potential game-winner.

Every Kentucky player who saw the floor scored. The typical bench unit – Brooks Jr. (who started in Hagans’ stead), Johnny Juzang and Nate Sestina – combined for 29 points and eleven rebounds. On a day where the rotation was even tighter because of Hagans’ absence, their contributions proved vital.

Tyrese Maxey stepped into the traditional point guard role. He did not shoot well (1-of-11 from the field), but had seven of Kentucky’s nine assists. It is the third time Maxey has had seven or more assists this season.

Kentucky’s next game will come in the postseason on Friday. As the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, it will play the winner of the Thursday game between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds. The game will be televised on ESPN.