By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky had gone eight possessions with four turnovers and four missed shots at Florida while the Gators went on a 9-0 run to take a 42-31 lead midway of the second half Saturday.
It looked like Kentucky’s seven-game win streak was about to end because the Cats simply were not able to make shots or get in sync on either end of the court.
But just looked like it was lights out for Kentucky, the Cats hit the go switch with a dynamic 30-12 run keyed by its defense and beat Florida 65-54 behind a third straight double-double from PJ Washington (15 points, 12 rebounds) — the first time a UK player had done that since Julius Randle in 2014 — and 19 points on 6-for-8 shooting and six rebounds from Tyler Herro —who is averaging 16.5 points per game in UK’s road games.
“He was big,” Herro said when asked about Washington’s play, especially after UK got down 11. “Just being the leader. Us young guys look up to him and take his lead.”
Washington was just 6-for-13 from the field or he might have had his fourth straight 20-point game. However, his effort never wavered as he sparked a fire in his teammates — and said a few words to some of them, too.
Calipari said he has been waiting since last year for the sophomore to do what he is doing now.
“He is building his own confidence,” Calipari said. “He is taking control of games. I have been waiting a year and a half for this. Now we are doing drills and anything we do he is finishing first. He got tough rebounds down the stretch.”
Freshman Keldon Johnson had 10 points in the second half after going scoreless in the first half like he did a week earlier against Kansas. He finished the game 4-for-13 from the field by had eight rebounds.
“When we are not shooting well, just have to find ways to rebound, play defense, get the win,” Johnson said. “It was frustrating (when UK was missing open shots in the first half). I was rushing shot but as long as we keep shooting and playing defense we will be fine. I just had to calm down and play basketball.”
That attitude didn’t change when the Cats got down 11 points against a team desperate to beat highly ranked team at home in front of a sold-out, rabid crowd.
“Nothing to really say. We know we had to come together and just lock down on defense. We didn’t want to lose. We just started communicating on defense and shots started falling,” Johnson said about UK’s big surge in the final 10 minutes. “We didn’t play good most of the game. Tyler stepped up big the first half, PJ stepped up and down the stretch we came out with the win.”
Sounds simple but he’s right and Kentucky is now 18-3 overall, 7-1 in league play and No. 7 in the country — meaning it still has a chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament or certainly a No. 2 seed thanks in part to winning a game it sure looked like it would lose midway of the second half.