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Calipari’s Cats simply refuse to lose at Florida

Vicky Graff Photo

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.

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  1. UK was not playing well, but played best when it mattered. So glad they beat that bunch of Florida noise. Got em in football and basketball . Great big time win. This game is never easy for UK in Gainesville. GO CATS!!!!!

  2. A GREAT comeback win for sure. I, like many others, were guessing D it was going to be a L after the way we started the 2nd half. Did we look like a Final 4 team today…not at all. You have to be able to win both halves, have more than 3 plays hitting double figures, be able to feed the post and make in-close shots, be able to hit good 3 %, and get more than 0 points from both Nick and EJ. We did rebound and play good enough D to be Final 4 but need more balance than shown today.

  3. Here we go again negative Mike on the air. Never satisfied regardless. Go Cats!!

    1. 79, it was a good win, but until PJ got into everyone’s face, it was a loss waiting to happen. Mike is right, they missed a lot of crip shots and still can’t or won’t feed the post. Hagans is going to have to shoot when he has the shot as teams are playing him to pass. Tennessee shot 64% for the game with 28 assists at A&M this evening. We aren’t ready for TN now and only have 2 weeks to get ready. We have a game in Starkville and LSU comes to town right after that. If we are going to win the SEC regular season, we have to get better quick. Mike looks at the game like a coach and not a Rah Rah, but he has a right to express his opinion about the game and does so without attacking others.

  4. Today, they stunk it up on offense for about 30 minutes. Having said that, in this situation, good teams let their defense and rebounding keep them in the game until their offense clicks. That’s exactly what they did today.
    Good to see they did not panic and just start jacking up 3’s. This team looks like they are starting to get it.
    Would like to see them look for PJ a little more when shots aren’t falling. When they did start making an effort to find PJ, things started turning around.
    Not a pretty win, but hopefully a learning win.

  5. Guys,our defense won this game hands down and that’s all it takes to win. This team motto is play defense and that what has carry us so far.

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