UK Downs Florida 89-77

Kentucky turned in one of their better all-around performances of the the season tonight as they defeated the Florida Gators in Gainesville by a score of 89-77.  A well-rounded offensive attack included four players in double-figures (Bledsoe, Patterson, Cousins, & Wall) and one more who was a single point off the mark (Miller). Eric Bledsoe paced the Wildcats with a career-high 25 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals.

The Gators rowdy road environment looked like it had Kentucky a little frazzled early on, as Florida jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, thanks in no small part to DeMarcus Cousins’ sudden inability to connect on lay ups and dunks.  But the Wildcats would eventually find their stride, as Eric Bledsoe and Darnell Dodson both connected on early first-half threes to help Kentucky tie the score at 14 by the ten-minute mark.

Bledsoe would continue to heat up from there.  He was the only Kentucky perimeter player that had much slashing success in the first half, as Florida’s match-up zone seemed to give the Cats trouble early on.  But Bledsoe found his way to the rim four times in the first-half, and he led all scorers with 15 at the half.

There were times in the second-half that Kentucky looked to be on the verge of a blow out, but each time Florida clawed their way back.  UF’s Erving Walker got ridiculously hot from the behind the 3-point line in the final frame, knocking down four treys over a five minute span at one point.

A Vernon Macklin putback tied the score at 72, but Kentucky came right back, going to junior Patrick Patterson who drained a jump hook while being fouled to put Kentucky back up two.  Patterson would miss the free throw, but DeMarcus Cousins managed to throw the ball off a Florida player as he was falling out of bounds to keep the ball on Kentucky’s end.  That stolen possession would prove to be a back-breaker for Florida, as UK’s Darnell Dodson would drain a 3-pointer from the far-side wing on the very next play.  The following Wildcat  possession would see Bledsoe bury another UK trey, extending the UK lead to seven with just under four minutes to go, 80-73.  A Bledoe tip-in, followed by four straight John Wall free throws would close out a 14-1 Kentucky run and, for all intents and purposes, drive the proverbial nail in the Gator’s coffin.  Wall drained a stat-padding 3-pointer at the buzzer, giving Kentucky a 17-5 scoring advantage over the final five minutes.  Final Score: UK – 89, Florida – 77

Notes:

– I’d actually planned to write this overly long essay today on how tonight would be the first of many showdowns between Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins.  Many people were starting to talk about Miller’s shaky play (myself included) over the past couple of weeks, and that combined with Liggins’ improved production was making a lot of people say that Kentucky had itself a controversy when it came to the starting 3-spot.  Thank God I didn’t write it, because DeAndre Liggins would’ve made me look like the fool I am; after tonight, it’ll be awhile before I try to make an argument for him as a starter.  Liggins reverted to his Gillispie era ways and had his worst outing of the season, scoring ZERO points and turning it over twice in a painful-to-watch six minutes of action.

Miller, on the other hand, scored nine points and grabbed four rebounds (two of which were of the offensive sort) in a game where he showed more offensive aggression than he had in several games.  He didn’t look scared to dribble the ball, hammered a nice baseline dunk to start the second half, and, as denimjersey pointed out at the half, hit a nice floater or two in the lane which will hopefully give his confidence a much-needed shot in the arm.

The other components of our newly formed small-forward-by-committee performed admirably in limited minutes.   Darnell Dodson had six points on two treys in only ten minutes of action, and although Ramon Harris didn’t do anything spectacular on the offensive end (does he ever?), he did provide solid perimeter defense in five minutes of playing time.  You have to wonder what’s in the cards for Harris’ role, what with DeAndre Liggins starting to see more time on the floor.  As mentioned, Liggins stunk it up tonight, but he’s looked better of late, and he’s got the potential to be a rich man’s Ramon Harris (long, athletic defender, but can do a little more on the offensive end), which doesn’t bode well for the existing man’s Ramon Harris (Ramon Harris).

– Eric Bledsoe was huge tonight: 25 points, several of which came at crucial moments in the game.  If his outside shot’s working, as it was tonight, Bledsoe instantly becomes almost as unguardable as Wall.

– Daniel Orton was blocking shots like a young Shagari Alleyne tonight on the defensive end.  He finished the game with four, and had (I’m pretty sure) three of those on one possession.  Orton is a kid that I’m really rooting for.  Like I mentioned before, he’s a kid that signed with Kentucky before we became Kentucky again (i.e., pre-Calipari), and, at least to me, that warrants some extra rooting energy. Sometimes I worry about him out there, as he seems to get visibly down on himself whenever he makes mistakes.  That probably makes me sound like a highly-perceptive, overly-sensitive pussy, but I take note of and worry about stuff like that. Hopefully tonight’s game will help him find a role as our defensive beast down low, which could subsequently improve his in-game confidence.

– As I said earlier, this game was probably Kentucky’s best all-around offensive performance of the season.  Miller was the only starter that didn’t finish in double-figures (and he had nine), and Darnell Dodson provided exactly what we need out of him: Immediate outside shooting.  When you combine that with the fact that Florida is a stellar defensive squad, and that we were playing on the road in a hostile environment, I think you have to be satisfied with what you saw tonight.  Dick Vitale made a good point tonight (and that’s a phrase you won’t see me write much), when he said Kentucky can beat you in a lot of ways, and that’s one tell-tale sign of a great team.  We have a great point guard, great big men, an aggressive, tough man-to-man defense, and a coach that’s proven he knows how to take teams to the Final Four.  If we can just get a couple more guys off the bench to become a little more consistent, there’s no good excuse why we shouldn’t be a Final Four team.

More to come later, including some thoughts on Tennessee and Lane Kiffin.

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