At long last, Mike White’s Gators resembled the team many dreamed it could be.
The display was a flickering one, possibly an aberration and nearly preceded the most epic choke job in a season full of them, but it at least gave fans- and more importantly, the players themselves- a reminder of what this team is capable of with March Madness approaching.
Florida used 22 points from Jalen Hudson, 16 more from Egor Koulechov and a trio of treys from KeVaughn Allen to bury Kentucky, 80-67 and secure the second season sweep of the Cats in the last five years. Along the way, Chris Chiozza surpassed Erving Walker’s all time school record for assists with his 548th, John Calipari’s hair turned a couple of shades whiter, and Florida clinched the #3 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament.
The Gators and Cats were locked in an interesting, relatively even game early on when suddenly Florida exploded on an 8-0 run that included an and-one from Gorjok Gak and a three from Keith Stone. That spurt seemed to ignite the Gators, who then scored on eight consecutive possessions to expand their lead to 15 at the half. And the second half started out the same way. Koulechov drained a pair of back to back threes to put Florida up 62-39 with sixteen minutes remaining- a point in the game at which the Gators were shooting 69% as a team.
Florida, though, then entered a cold spell as they frequently do. The Gators could only manage a stray jumper from Mike Okuaru and a single free throw from Gorjok Gak over the next ten minutes as Kentucky gradually brought the lead down to nine. The whole stretch was eerily reminiscent of the rough stretch Florida suffered through in mid-February: both open and ill advised shots clanked off the rim alike, failure to corral rebounds led to some breakaways from Kentucky and just the general lack of scoring allowed opponent to creep back into a game it shouldn’t have been in.
Then Florida awoke from its slumber and proceeded to bury Kentucky.
First, Hudson connected on a three to push the lead back up to double digits for good. Hudson then proceeded to pick Wenyen Gabriel’s pocket on the other end of the floor, leading to a possession in which Koulechov was fouled and sank both free throws. After another empty Cats possession, Allen found a backdoor-cutting Keith Stone, who promptly administered the dagger via a thunderous dunk to turn a 65-56 lead into a 72-56 lead in the span of 55 seconds.
Now, Florida has a season sweep of the Wildcats to boast about in a year in which little has gone right for too long at a time. We know this team has the pure talent to win big games. But today’s win served as a small reminder of what this team is capable of for those who can’t easily recall the Gators’ double overtime win over Gonzaga out in Portland. The book on this Florida team remains the same it always has been- they’ll beat anybody in the country when they shoot well, and they’ll lose to anybody in the country when they don’t, with little gray area in between.
And the Gators shooting well in their win today- along with in the upsets over Auburn and Alabama that preceded today- could prove the catalyst for another deep run in March Madness for another streaky team that few expect to make it out of the opening weekend.