Florida at Kentucky score, takeaways: Gators force OT, win first top-10 road game since 2003

By OnlyGators.com Staff
January 31, 2024
Florida at Kentucky score, takeaways: Gators force OT, win first top-10 road game since 2003

Image Credit: UAA

For the first time in 7,694 days, the Florida Gators have defeated a top-10 team on the road. Florida battled back late in regulation to force overtime and ultimately prevail 94-91 over the No. 10 Kentucky Wildcats in Rupp Arena on the back of an unconscious shooting night from junior guard Walter Clayton Jr.

Just 25 days after Florida blew an 11-point second-half lead to Kentucky inside the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, the Gators fought tooth and nail down the stretch to pick up a signature victory for head coach Todd Golden. In doing so, they broke a 20-year winless drought in road games against top-10 opponents while improving to 3-0 in overtime games this season.

Let’s take a look at what went down Tuesday night in Lexington, Kentucky.

It was over when … the overtime buzzer sounded. Clayton drained a 3-pointer from the corner to put Florida ahead 89-87 with 1:42 remaining. The Gators then hit 5 of 6 free throws to push their lead to five points, and despite turning the ball over in the waining seconds, held on for the victory.

First half focus: Florida opened as cold as can be hitting 1 of 5 field goals while committing three turnovers in the first 3:18; however, it scored six straight points to tie the game at 14. There were 14 lead changes in the half, the last coming as Kentucky took advantage of an 0 of 10 drought with a 12-1 run to lead 39-29. The Gators were able to pull closer before the buzzer, though, scoring five straight to trail by as many at the break.

Second half sweat: Junior G Will Richard hit a triple early in the second half to conclude an 11-0 run that transversed halftime and erased a 10-point deficit to give Florida back the lead at 42-41. The Gators regained the advantage at 71-70 following a terrific sequence in which Clayton registered a chase-down block off the backboard and hit a trailing 3-pointer on the other end. Florida then tied it at 77 with 3:23 left after sophomore center Micah Handlogten completed an alley-oop poster slam.

It looked as if UF was about to go down to UK in regulation after sophomore G Riley Kugel heaved and air-balled a trey for no reason as the Wildcats took a four-point lead with 37 seconds left. However, Golden called a key timeout inside the final 30 seconds that allowed his team to regroup. The Gators hit a quick basket and Kentucky went 1 of 2 at the line, which gave Clayton an opening to drive up the court, shot fake and nail another triple to tie the game at 84.

Exceptional efforts: Clayton was the straw that stirred the drink for Florida, hitting an astounding 7 of 13 attempts from downtown for a team-high 23 points, 17 of which came in the second half and overtime. Senior forward Tyrese Samuel frustrated missing two unnecessary 3-pointers, but he finished 9 of 19 otherwise with 22 points, 14 of which came in the second half and overtime, along with 13 rebounds for another double-double. Redshirt senior guard Zyon Pullin put in work across all phases of the game. He constantly created pressure inside driving to the hoop and went 8 of 9 from the free-throw line to score 21 points with seven assists and seven boards. Combined, Clayton, Samuel and Pullin scored 66 points, 70% of the Gators’ team total.

Odds & ends: Florida improved to 42-110 all-time against Kentucky with a 12-55 mark in Rupp Arena … the Gators are 1-3 against the Wildcats under Golden … Florida is 2-10 in its last 12 games against Kentucky but has split the last four meetings in Rupp since 2021 (2-2) … UF defeated a top-10 team on the road for the first time since Jan. 7, 2003 (Mississippi State) and a top-10 UK team in Rupp for the first time since Feb. 1, 1998 … Florida is now 6-65 all-time against top-10 opponents on the road … the Gators are 2-5 against top-10 teams and 3-7 against top-25 teams under Golden

Florida got a rare victory under Golden when tied or trailing with 5 minutes left (2-21) and tied or trailing at halftime (6-18) … the Gators improved to 10-1 this season when outshooting an opponent from downtown, 12-4 when taking more free throws and 13-4 when outrebounding an opponent

What it means: This was crucial Quadrant 1 win for a Florida team that lacked one entering Tuesday night. The Gators started the day ranked 41st in NET with an 0-6 mark against Quadrant 1 opponents and a 14-0 record against those in Quadrants 2-4. Their inability to beat the best teams they have faced this season almost became a self-fulfilling prophecy given how many such games they lost late, including at home to the Wildcats with a large second-half lead earlier this season.

Florida did not receive any votes in the AP Top 25 this week and is unlikely to be ranked next Monday, but wins like this matter when the selection committee chooses at-large bids for the NCAA Tournament in March. The Gators’ ability to battle through adversity and numerous poor possessions late in the game — notably those 3-point attempts by Samuel and Kugel — is not a characteristic the team has displayed previously. Perhaps Golden has finally broken through, or perhaps Florida was tired of the experiencing the same outcomes in such situations.

Either way, this is a signature win for Golden and this Gators team. Now, it needs to serve as a building block for the rest of the season as the SEC schedule does not get much easier from here.

What’s next? Florida will conclude its week on the road when it visits Texas A&M on Saturday for a 4 p.m. ET tip off that will air live nationally on ESPN2. The Aggies are 3-4 in SEC play.

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