At the buzzer: Kentucky mens basketball defeats Florida 82-74


Isabel McSwain

Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) celebrates a play during the Kentucky vs. LSU mens basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 74-71. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Kentucky mens basketball defeated Florida 82-74 in Gainesville on Wednesday.

The Wildcats entered the matchup on the back of an undefeated weekend that saw them pick up two quadrant-1 victories, first beating Mississippi State on Wednesday and then No. 10 Tennessee on Saturday.

While the team would be forced to play without sharpshooter CJ Fredrick and point guard Sahvir Wheeler once again, Florida also entered the game shorthanded, losing team leader Colin Castleton to a hand injury that ended his season.

Starting with a lineup of Jacob Toppin, Antonio Reeves, Cason Wallace, Chris Livingston and Oscar Tshiebwe, the Cats faced off against Florida’s starting five that consisted of Myreon Jones, Will Richard, Kyle Lofton, Riley Kugel and Jason Jitoboh.

Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) holds the ball during the Kentucky vs. Florida mens basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 72-67. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

With the game getting underway, the Wildcats would score first courtesy of Tshiebwe and an early two-minute scoring drought by the Gators saw UK take a 10-4 by the 15-minute mark.

Kentucky continued its early dominance, leading Florida 22-12 with just over 11 minutes remaining in the first half.

Things would only get worse for the Gators as the Cats jumped ahead to a 30-15 lead with just under eight minutes. With over 12 minutes played, Tshiebwe became the first player to record a double-digit point total, recording 11 points. The figure brought Tshiebwe’s average to just under one point per minute in the opening half of the game.

The Gators refused to merely lay down and die though, erupting for a 7-0 scoring run to shrink the lead down to eight points and force a John Calipari timeout.

The timeout didn’t stop the surge though, with the Gators scoring as many as 13 consecutive points before Lance Ware finally ended the scoring run. The damage had already been done though, as the Gators were down by just four points following Ware’s basket.

The Gators continued to rally, getting the score within two points with under 40 second left to play. Florida would even take the lead after Kugel nailed a 3-pointer to cap off a 9-0 run to end the half.

Florida took a 37-36 lead into the break after Kentucky’s nearly three-minute scoring drought to end the half, though Tshiebwe still led the field with 15 points. The 3-pointer to end the period ensured Kugel wasn’t far behind though, notching 14 points in the first 20.

As a team Kentucky shot 48% from the field and 33% from beyond the arc in the first half while the Gators shot 54% from the field and 42% from beyond the arc.

Kentucky recorded double the number of turnovers as the Gators in the half, with two turnovers each from Wallce and Tshiebwe.

Kentucky Wildcats guard Cason Wallace (22) dribbles the ball up the court during the Kentucky vs. Florida mens basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 72-67. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

Coming out of the half, Kentucky retook its lead, standing atop the Gators 50-46 after five minutes played.

Tshiebwe and Kugel continued battling to be the leading scorer, with each hoping to be the first to reach 20 points with 19 each with just over 14 minutes played.

It would ultimately be Tshiebwe who would win the race, recording 21 points with just over 11 minutes left to go, leading the Cats to a 57-53 lead after the Gators retied the game.

Tshiebwe would continue to pile on, reaching 25 points with just under six minutes left to play.

The Cats would jump back ahead by 11 points with just over three minutes to play, leading 74-63.

While the Gators would get back within single digits, Kentucky was able to secure the eight-point win to extend its winning streak to three games.

Tshiebwe led all scorers in the game, finishing with 25 points, while Florida’s Kugel finished with 24.

Several other Wildcats also recorded double-digit point totals, with Toppin recording 19, Reeves finishing with 16 and Livingston finishing with 10.

With the win Kentucky will return home on Saturday, Feb. 25, to host the Auburn Tigers. Tip off against Auburn is scheduled for 4 p.m. EST and will air live on CBS.