Kentucky remains unbeaten
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Attention, Southeastern Conference. Kentucky has a freshman point guard capable of beating teams in a variety of ways.
And it’s not John Wall.
Eric Bledsoe scored a career-high 25 points, getting to the rim, hitting 3-pointers and making just about everything in between to help the second-ranked Wildcats stay unbeaten with an 89-77 victory over Florida on Tuesday night.
“He’s as good as any point guard in the country,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s faster than John Wall and probably shoots it a little bit better.”
Wall was no slouch, either. He finished with 19 points despite missing six of seven from 3-point range. Patrick Patterson added 15 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats (17-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference), who ended the game with a 17-5 run and snapped a five-game losing streak in Gainesville.
Erving Walker led Florida with 20 points, and Alex Tyus added 17. But the Gators (11-5, 0-2) are off to their worst start in conference play since 1996 — the year before coach Billy Donovan took over.
Florida made this one close in the second half.
Kentucky built a 55-40 lead, but couldn’t close it out — something that’s starting to become a trend for coach John Calipari’s team.
Kentucky watched a double-digit lead slip away Saturday against Georgia. This time, Walker did most of the damage. He hit two 3-pointers and two free throws, then Kenny Boynton got loose on a fast break that whittled Kentucky’s lead to 61-54 with about 12 minutes to play. Clearly feeling it, Walker hit two more 3s — on consecutive possessions — a few minutes later. Vernon Macklin rattled home a layup that made it 68-66 with 7:59 remaining.
The Gators tied the game at 72 on Macklin’s putback with 5:13 left.
Patterson put the Cats back ahead with a turnaround jumper in the lane. He failed to convert the three-point play, but DeMarcus Cousins gathered the rebound. Darnell Dodson then hit a 3. Bledsoe added to the pain with another 3 on the next possession that put Kentucky ahead 80-73 with 3:58 to play.
The Gators never recovered.
“It was real big,” Patterson said. “It shows our maturity level, it shows how far we’ve come. We’re a tough team, we have a will to win and we want to battle.”
Kentucky shot 51 percent from the field and made 7 of 18 from 3-point range. Florida was much less effective. Donovan’s squad shot 38 percent from the floor and hit 8 of 27 from behind the arc. The Gators struggled even more on the defensive end.
Bledsoe, Wall and Patterson proved to be the toughest matchups. Bledsoe was 10 of 13 shooting and added seven rebounds and five assists. Wall torched the Gators on the break and finished with six assists. Patterson was 7 of 11 shooting and had seven boards.
Florida paid extra attention to Wall and Patterson, and Bledsoe took advantage.
“When Eric goes off, you just have to keep feeding him the ball,” Patterson said. “We all know what he’s capable of.”
Kentucky dominated the first half after Florida scored the first seven points. Macklin dropped in a hook shot in the lane, Boynton made a layup and then Tyus drained the first 3-pointer of his career. It was all Kentucky the rest of the way.
The Wildcats scored at will in the paint, were bigger and faster on the perimeter, and would have had a double-digit lead if not for a few improbable shots from the Gators. Tyus, who had taken just one 3 in his first 87 college games, hit another one from behind the arc and then Boynton banked in a 3.
“We had looks, but they just made more shots than us in the end,” said Walker, who had four of Florida’s eight 3-pointers.
The nationally televised game drew plenty of interest. Florida football coach Urban Meyer and his wife, Shelley, watched the first half. Meyer, who is taking a leave of absence, spent several minutes chatting with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who had courtside seats for the best performance of Bledsoe’s career.
“Big plus to Eric,” Wall said. “He stepped up big time for us. Every time I drove, they weren’t leaving me. They were leaving him open, and he was making shots. That helped us.”
No. 2 KENTUCKY 89, FLORIDA 77
Cousins 5-11 3-3 13, Patterson 7-11 1-3 15, Miller 4-8 0-0 9, Wall 7-17 4-4 19, Bledsoe 10-13 2-2 25, Dodson 2-4 0-0 6, Harris 0-0 0-0 0, Stevenson 0-0 0-0 0, Orton 1-6 0-1 2, Liggins 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 36-70 10-13 89.
Werner 1-8 4-4 6, Tyus 5-12 5-6 17, Macklin 4-6 0-0 8, Boynton 5-17 0-0 12, Walker 6-15 4-4 20, Shipman 1-2 0-0 2, Parsons 3-5 2-4 8, Murphy 1-3 2-2 4. Totals 26-68 17-20 77.
Halftime—Kentucky 38-31. 3-Point Goals—Kentucky 7-18 (Bledsoe 3-4, Dodson 2-3, Miller 1-3, Wall 1-7, Patterson 0-1), Florida 8-27 (Walker 4-9, Tyus 2-4, Boynton 2-8, Parsons 0-2, Werner 0-4). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Kentucky 42 (Orton 9), Florida 38 (Tyus 7). Assists—Kentucky 13 (Wall 6), Florida 14 (Walker, Werner 4). Total Fouls—Kentucky 16, Florida 13. A—12,618.