Kentucky finishes SEC play perfect
Wildcats blow past No. 16 Florida to move to 16-0 in league
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Kentucky coach John Calipari never mentioned perfection to his team before Sunday’s game at Florida.
He talked about pride.
The Wildcats ended up with both.
Freshman Anthony Davis had 22 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks, Terrence Jones added 19 points and the top-ranked Wildcats capped a perfect season in Southeastern Conference play with a 74-59 victory against No. 16 Florida.
Kentucky (30-1, 16-0) set a school record for regular-season wins, extended its winning streak to 22 games and secured its hold on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats are the No. 1 seed in next week’s SEC tournament.
"I told them prior to the game, 'Look, bottom line is if we lose we’re still a 1 seed. It doesn’t change our seeding. It doesn’t do anything. But it’s about pride,'" Calipari said. "… That was the message prior to the game: just go have pride and play."
The Wildcats became just the third team since Alabama in 1956 to go unbeaten in SEC play. The other two? Kentucky. The powerhouse program accomplished the feat in 1996 and 2003.
"To be a part of one of them, it’s a great honor," Davis said.
Big Blue faced little resistance in the regular-season finale.
The Wildcats used an 8-0 run in the second half to make it a double-digit lead, and then added a 9-0 run later to put the game out of reach.
"The one thing I would say about them is that if you do break down defensively against them, you’re going to pay," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "But they also have the ability, when you guard them the way you want to guard them, they can still make a shot. … I think that’s what makes really, really good teams."
Patric Young led Florida (22-9, 10-6) with 21 points while Erik Murphy added 14 points and eight rebounds.
Young and Murphy had few answers for Davis and Jones, who both were 9 of 13 from the field, including a 3-pointer each.
Kentucky shot 53 percent from the field and seemingly scored at will in the paint, finishing with 40 points in the key. And when the Wildcats aren’t missing many shots and aren’t turning the ball over, they are tough to beat -- maybe even impossible.
"This line of guys they have really good chemistry, they’re really together," Young said. "No one’s out there trying to score from himself. … They have a really complete team. It will be really tough to beat them."
The Wildcats took a 28-16 lead in the first half, often abusing the Gators in one-on-one situations. And even when Kentucky did miss, Davis and Jones were there for rebounds and putbacks.
"It was one of those nights that Kentucky’s length really caused us some problems," Donovan said.
Florida crawled back in the second half. The Gators cut the lead to 46-44 with about 16 minutes remaining, but couldn’t get any closer as Kentucky responded with clutch shots every time the score got close.
Kentucky started pulling away from there.
Florida responded thanks to some inspired play by Young and made it 59-55. But the Cats just dialed it up on both ends of the court.
The Gators made just one basket over the final 9:02, a meaningless shot in the closing minute. Davis, meanwhile, took over. He had a putback, a layup, a dunk and a free throw down the stretch.
"John is now putting him in situations that he did not do a lot of," Donovan said. "When you go through a season, teams start to guard you differently, throw different things at you and it’s enabled him to grow as Kentucky’s team’s grown because he adds a different dimension for them on the perimeter."
Calipari was equally impressed with Jones.
"If Terrence Jones plays that way for us, we’re not just good, we’re real good," Calipari said. "And that’s what he was today. He was phenomenal."
Young was the lone bright spot for the Gators. He made 10 of 15 shots and finished with nine rebounds.
Guards Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Bradley Beal had forgettable performances for Florida. Going against bigger defenders, the trio combined for 6-of-29 shooting.
Boynton, benched to start the game because he was late to a team meeting, finished with seven points on 2-of-8 shooting. Walker, recognized before his final home game as the team’s lone senior, had eight points on 3-of-11 shooting. Beal had five points to go along with seven rebounds and four assists. He left the game with a sprained ankle, but returned late.
Together, they did little to keep Kentucky from perfection.
"Their talent and ability to make a shot or make a difficult shot was much, much better than our ability to do that," Donovan said.