Kentucky stuns Florida, helps tourney chances
by Kyle Tucker, USA TODAY Sports
LEXINGTON, Ky. — As Kentucky’s season has teetered on the brink of disaster the last two weeks, coach John Calipari has had a message for the Wildcats: “Keep your coffin open.”
Put those shovels away, folks. Kentucky pumped new life into its NCAA Tournament hopes with a thrilling 61-57 upset of 11th-ranked Florida on Saturday at a roaring Rupp Arena.
The Cats overcame foul trouble for center Willie Cauley-Stein – who delivered several critical stops and rebounds playing the final 11 minutes with four fouls – and got heroics from freshman guard Archie Goodwin. Fittingly, Julius Mays, the only senior playing Senior Day, sank the clinching free throws with 9.4 seconds remaining.
Goodwin scored nine of his team-high 16 points in the second half, seven of those in the final 10 minutes. Mays finished with 13, including three well-timed 3-pointers. Cauley-Stein, in just 25 minutes, had six points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots. He altered countless others.
The result: The Cats (21-10, 12-6 Southeastern Conference) closed the regular season with their biggest win of the season. The Gators (25-5, 15-3) had already clinched the SEC regular-season title, while Kentucky with the win secured at least a tie for second in the standings and a first-round bye in next week’s league tournament.
The Cats couldn’t have asked for a better start. They won the tip, scored first on an Alex Poythress (he of the frequent disappearing act) put-back bucket. Poythress finished with nine points and 12 rebounds. Florida coach Billy Donovan took his first timeout just 48 seconds into the game. UK scored the first six points and led 11-2 in less than four minutes, turning Rupp Arena into a buzzing hornet’s nest.
Cauley-Stein swatted two shots and altered two more in that time, looking every bit the defensive force of injured teammate Nerlens Noel. Likewise, point guard Ryan Harrow (another frequent vanishing act) recovered from two consecutive ugly outings with a hot start, sinking a pair of early driving layups. He finished with 13 points, four rebounds, two assists and only one turnover.
Tucker also writes for the Louisville-Courier Journal, a Gannett asset… [For more on Kentucky stuns No. 9 Florida to enhance its NCAA tourney chances, click here.]