Cats grab first place in SEC after win over Florida

Sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe looks to pass the ball during the game against Florida at Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY. on Saturday, February 25, 2017. Kentucky defeats Florida 76-66. Photo by Lydia Emeric | Staff.

Chris Angolia

After the No. 13 Florida Gators embarrassed UK basketball in the teams’ prior meeting, UK was able to avenge the loss and take down the Gators 76-66 snapping Florida’s nine-game winnings streak, and grabbed ahold of sole possession of first place in the SEC.

It was an impressive showing from a Cats team that has not been playing its best basketball and to make things even more difficult, UK was without point guard De’Aaron Fox Saturday.

In the first half, Florida picked up right where they left off in the two teams’ first meeting, starting with an 8-0 run including a pair of threes that forced UK head  coach John Calipari to call and early timeout. That timeout however, did not do a good job of motivating the Cats, and after four points from Bam Adebayo, the Gators rattled off seven more points to take an 11-point lead.

The ugly start for UK had fans feeling a sense of anxiety as if their team was going to yet again be run out of the gym by the Gators, but the Cats responded in a big way on their home floor.

A 17-3 run that stretched over six minutes and was engineered by relentless defense and effort on the glass had UK in the lead and Rupp Arena rocking. However, the Gators responded with a 5-0 run and in what was a sloppy final seven minutes of the half, but UK managed to tie it up heading into the locker room.

Being tied at the half was something that midway through the first half would have seemed impossible, but crashing the glass and ramping up their defensive intensity helped.

Even though UK was able to tie it up before the half, the sluggish start to the game made it difficult for the Cats to get their footing, and another sluggish start to the second half did not make things any easier.

The Gators were able to grab an eight-point lead early in the half, but then Malik Monk began to take over.

After scoring just three points on 1-of-5 shooting and five turnovers, Monk rattled off 21 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half. It was one of Monk’s usual scoring outbursts, but this time it was one that fueled a ferocious second half effort.

It was not only Monk however that was the one fueling the Cats in the second half. Bam Adebayo, who struggled in the two teams’ first matchup would not be denied this time around. Immediately, Adebayo grabbed 11 rebounds in the first half, and in the second half was all over both ends of the court playing with that incredible intensity that everyone knew he had.

Finishing with 18 points and 15 rebounds, Adebayo continued his uptick in production after grabbing 15 boards against Missouri on Tuesday. Adebayo and Monk, who finished with 33 after a 30-point second half, showed what this Cats team can be even without their primary floor general.

With a one game lead in the SEC with two games to play, UK is in the driver’s seat for the SEC’s top seed in the conference tournament that begins in two weeks.