Cats sweep Gators, take over third place in SEC

Published 10:44 am Thursday, February 23, 2023

BY KEITH TAYLOR

Kentucky Today

Kentucky earned its second sweep of the season on Wednesday night at the O’Connell Center in Gainesville.

The Wildcats (19-9, 10-5 Southeastern Conference) earned their fifth straight win over Florida on its home court with an 82-74 victory. Kentucky has won three consecutive games and moved into sole possession of the third place in the league standings with three games remaining in the regular season.

Kentucky’s three-game win streak comes after the Cats dropped  back-to-back games to Arkansas and Georgia. Kentucky also swept Florida last season and has won nine of the last 10 games against the Gators.

Coming off a 66-54 win over No. 11 Tennessee last Saturday, Kentucky blew a 15-point lead but overcame a 37-36 halftime deficit with a solid showing in the second half to remain in contention for a bye in the conference tournament.

Four of the Wildcats’ five starters finished in double figures and the starters played every second of the second half. Oscar Tshiebwe missed just one field goal on 13 attempts and finished with 25 points. Jacob Toppin followed with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Tshiebwe and Toppin made 19 of the team’s 33 field goals, while Toppin swished two of Kentucky’s four 3-pointers.

Antonio Reeves made a pair of shots from long range and followed with 16 points, while SEC Freshman of the Week Chris Livingston added 10 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.

Kentucky scored eight of the last 10 points of the game for the final margin.

Toppin closed a 15-4 run with a 3-pointer and fast-break dunk to give Kentucky a 74-63 lead with 3:43 left. But Florida scored the next nine points, including six free throws — the last by Kyle Lofton with 1:12 left – to pull within 74-72.

Livingston ended Kentucky’s nearly three-minute scoring drought on a three-point play with 49.1 seconds left. Florida missed a shot in the lane and Toppin sealed it with two free throws.

Florida (14-14, 7-8) was without leading scorer and post player Colin Castleton, who is out for the remainder of the year with a broken hand. Riley Kugel carried the Gators in the scoring department and finished with 24 points. Kowacie Reeves added 16 points for Florida.

Kentucky was also without two of its senior guards. Sahvir Wheeler (ankle) and CJ Fredrick (hip) missed the game because of injuries. Both players are currently listed as day-to-day.

Tshiebwe became the 61st player in Kentucky history to score 1,000 points in a career. He reached that milestone in the first half. All those points have come with him as a Wildcat. He scored 433 points in his first season and a half of college ball at West Virginia.

The All-American reached his 1,000th career college point in last year’s NCAA tournament against Saint Peters.

The game was delayed with 13:47 left in the second half when Kentucky guard Cason Wallace was grabbed by fans sitting courtside after he chased a loose ball on the sideline. The fans were removed fbefore play resumed tied at 50-50.

Kentucky is back in action at 4 p.m. Saturday when Auburn visits Rupp Arena.