No. 1 Kentucky tops No. 8 Florida 78-58
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 13 points and 13 rebounds and top-ranked Kentucky easily passed its toughest Southeastern Conference test to date with a 78-58 victory over No. 8 Florida on Tuesday night.
The Wildcats (24-1, 10-0) have won 49 straight at home and matched their best start in league play since 2005 thanks to three freshmen starters who have jelled into a formidable defense to go along with their high-powered offense
Doron Lamb scored 18 points and freshman Anthony Davis added 16 for Kentucky, which won its 16th straight overall and ended Florida's run of seven consecutive wins.
Kenny Boynton led the Gators (19-5, 7-2) with 18 points, but the team with the nation's most 3-pointers this season went 6 of 27 from behind the arc and shot 34.9 percent overall from the field.
One of the last remaining questions for a team that continues to believe it can play for a national championship in just under two months had been the quality of opponents the Wildcats had faced after not meeting a ranked team in over a month.
Kentucky answered it emphatically.
Freshman point guard Marquis Teague finished with 12 points and 10 assists as the Wildcats attacked on both ends.
Florida scored the first two baskets of the second half to cut it to 38-30, but Kentucky answered with an 11-0 run sparked when Teague and Darius Miller hit consecutive 3-pointers.
Florida freshman Bradley Beal then drove to the hoop only to have Davis reject his shot and Davis swatted another from Patric Young on the possession for good measure.
Miller added another jumper and Kidd-Gilchrist spun, hit a basket and was fouled. He completed the three-point play that made it 49-30 as Florida missed eight straight shots before snapping the skid.
The lead reached 20 points when Lamb buried a 3 from the left corner with 11:27 left and by as many as 21 late.
Beal scored 14 points and Young added 12 for the Gators.
Florida insisted before the game all the pressure was on the Wildcats, but this group that starts three freshmen and two sophomores doesn't appear to get rattled easily. Their only blemish is a one-point loss in December at Indiana.
Fans received a panoramic black-and-white poster of Davis stretching his arms out over a span of more than eight basketballs. When he puts his arms up, he's been almost unstoppable in leading the nation's top-ranked defense by field goal percentage.
Davis blocked four shots, leading the country with 120 and continuing to climb the SEC's season list after already surpassing Shaquille O'Neal's freshman conference record set 22 years ago.
Kentucky's lone problem was a slow start. The Wildcats fell behind 6-0 and missed their first seven shots before scoring nine straight points.
The game featured frenetic up-and-down play early. In one sequence, Mike Rosario went behind his back to find Young for a dunk, but Kidd-Gilchrist answered when he floated an alley-oop pass to Davis for a slam over Erik Murphy.
It was an electric — and sometimes bizarre — atmosphere among the 24,389 fans at Rupp Arena. Former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl sat courtside signing a few autographs, and at one point during free throws by Beal in the first half a fan in the student section tried to distract him by wearing nothing but a blue Speedo.
It didn't work.
Beal made the free throws, but Florida went more than 6 minutes without a field goal. Teague's 3-pointer gave the Wildcats their first double-digit lead with 1:38 left in the first half and Lamb hit two 3-pointers in the final minute to put them up 38-26.
Florida would close the gap to eight points to start the second half, but never got back within striking distance.