Florida kept sticking to its strength by shooting behind the arc. It turned out to be the eighth-ranked Gators biggest problem.
Kenny Boynton led Florida with 18 points, but the team with the most 3-pointers in the nation this season went 6 of 27 from 3-point range in a 78-58 loss to No. 1 Kentucky on Tuesday night.
“I don’t know if we necessarily attacked their defense great in terms of with a high level of intelligence,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “But, I did think that we had some decent looks.”
Not enough to contend with the overwhelming Wildcats, who got 13 points and 13 rebounds from freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to easily pass its toughest conference test to date.
“They are very, very good. There is not one thing you do necessarily against them that is a formula to win,” Donovan said. “Certainly shooting the ball well on the road helps, we didn’t shoot it well.”
The Gators (19-5, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) shot 34.9 percent from the field overall as the Wildcats (24-1, 10-0) won their 49th straight at home.
Doron Lamb scored 18 points and freshman Anthony Davis added 16 for Kentucky, which won its 16th straight overall and ended Florida’s run of seven consecutive wins.
“Our biggest strength is making 3s and we weren’t making them,” Florida freshman Bradley Beal said. “Our defense was terrible so, really, it was an overall totally bad game.”
Florida scored the first two baskets of the second half to cut it to 38-30, but Kentucky answered with an 11-0 run sparked when freshman Marquis Teague and Darius Miller hit consecutive 3-pointers.
Beal then drove to the hoop only to have Davis reject his shot and Davis swatted another from Patric Young on the possession for good measure.
Miller added another jumper and Kidd-Gilchrist spun, hit a basket and was fouled. He completed the three-point play that made it 49-30 as Florida missed eight straight shots before snapping the skid.
“They know that we are a 3-point shooting team and they took our best strength away from us,” said Beal, who finished with 14 points. “We have to find other ways to be able to put the ball in the basket, and we didn’t do that.”
Florida insisted before the game all the pressure was on the Wildcats, but this group that starts three freshmen and two sophomores doesn’t appear to get rattled easily. Their only blemish is a one-point loss in December at Indiana.
One of the last remaining questions for a team that continues to believe it can play for a national championship in just under two months had been the quality of opponents the Wildcats had faced after not meeting a ranked team in over a month.
Kentucky answered it emphatically.
The lead reached 20 points when Lamb buried a 3 from the left corner with 11:27 left and by as many as 21 late.
Boynton said Kentucky is the best team in the SEC.
“They’ve proven it. They’ve beaten good teams by 20,” Boynton said. “We just have to get better. We’ve got time before play them again. We just have to come out and work.”
Florida would close the gap to eight points to start the second half, but never got back within striking distance.
“Our whole defensive principles were wrong throughout the whole game,” Beal said. “That’s not the way we play. We played terrible.”