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Kentucky Holds Off Florida 74-71

Terrence Jones and Erik Murphy were standouts in a great game between Florida and Kentucky.
Terrence Jones and Erik Murphy were standouts in a great game between Florida and Kentucky.

In an SEC Tournament classic, Kentucky held off Florida 74-71 to advance to the final. This was perhaps the best game played in the SEC this season, with both teams playing well just about the whole way.

Florida started off on fire, leading nearly the entire first half. The Gators ran up a 10-point lead at 31-21 with about eight and a half minutes to go, and the lead even remained at seven with three minutes to go. However, Kentucky held the Gators scoreless in the final 4:24 and scored eight straight points to go up by one at the half.

The teams played about even for a while in the second half, but Kentucky seemed to flip a switch with about 10 and a half minutes to go as Terrence Jones took over. UK went on a 14-0 run during which Jones scored seven points, grabbed five rebounds, and forced a couple of turnovers. The Gators failed to score a point between 10:42 and 4:10 on the clock, but when the drought ended, UF played far better the rest of the way. The Gators scored eight straight points to pull within two, and Kentucky was only able to put it away from the charity stripe during extend-the-game fouling time by Florida.

The Gators by far played both their best game against UK, and it was also their best since Will Yeguete went out for the season to injury. They found a powerful duo in Erik Murphy and Bradley Beal, who scored 24 and 20 points respectively. Those guys found the most success as they had the size to deal with UK's physical defense. Most importantly, the Gators hit 11-22 from downtown, a marked improvement over their 24.5% shooting from three in the first two games versus the Wildcats. Ultimately the difference in the game was Florida getting nothing from leading scorer Kenny Boynton, who went 1-9 and had two points, and UF's inability to find its way to the free throw line. The Gators shot two free throws all game, while Kentucky had 20 such attempts (14 before extend-the-game fouling time).

Kentucky, meanwhile, rode different guys at different times. Jones had the best stretch of anyone with his tour de force in the second half, but all five starters hit double digits. In particular, the front line of Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Anthony Davis destroyed Florida on the boards. Those three together collected 30 rebounds with 14 of them offensive. Both totals were more for just those three players than Florida grabbed all game.

John Calipari seemed relieved after the game, but with a little more time he'll be proud. That was the most Kentucky has been pushed since its loss to Indiana, and it passed the test. Billy Donovan also will feel better with some time, as his team finally didn't wilt after UK went on The Big Run. He also found a post-Yeguete system that, as it worked against Kentucky, should work against anyone.

And anyone who watched this game finally got to see the great Florida-Kentucky game we've been waiting for all season.