It was tempting to see Kentucky’s 88-66 defeat at Florida on Saturday as an example of what might happen if Malik Monk did not shoot well.
After all, UK needed overtime to beat Georgia on Tuesday when the Southeastern Conference’s leading scorer poured in 37 points. And no UK fan can forget Monk’s 47-point starburst in a nail-biting victory over North Carolina.
Monk did not shoot well here (4-for-14), but Florida’s victory was much more simply a tale of a prolific scorer’s off night. Florida’s most lopsided victory ever over Kentucky was total domination. Until this seamless beating of Kentucky, the Gators’ largest margin of victory in the series came here in 2014: 84-65.
“They beat us from the tip to the end of the game,” said UK Coach John Calipari, who more than once reminded reporters that Florida’s excellence should not be forgotten.
“Florida outplayed us, out-coached us,” Calipari said. “They did everything sideways. They deserved to win. They wanted it more than we did. At least it appeared that way.”
Florida hammered Kentucky on the backboards as well as the scoreboard. The Gators enjoyed a 54-29 rebounding edge, a margin made more surprising because Florida ranked No 153 in rebounding margin (plus 1.3) coming into the game.
“They beat us to every ball,” Calipari said.
Florida, which improved to 18-5 overall and 8-2 in the SEC (the latter tying Kentucky for second place behind South Carolina), beat the Cats to many of the so-called 50/50 balls.
Kentucky, which lost for a third time in the last four games, fell to 18-5 overall and 8-2 in the SEC.
Monk, who scored 11 points, was not the only UK player to shoot poorly. Kentucky made a season-low 37.7 percent of its shots.
Florida believed Monk’s struggles threw Kentucky.
“For any team’s leading scorer, you try to take them out,” Devin Robinson said. “That’s going to affect their team. He scores for them. He’s their leading scorer for a reason.”
De’Aaron Fox, who returned from illness and led UK with 19 points, did not accept the idea that Florida thwarted Monk.
“Nah,” he said with a smile. “Not too many things you can do to Malik to hold him down. Sometimes you have those nights.”
Florida continued a defensive streak of holding all but one opponent under its scoring average this season. UK came into the game averaging 91.3 points. The exception is Georgia, which needed an overtime period to get its average.
The last three Florida opponents shot a combined 33.9 percent.
It all added up to a hot Florida team keeping a good thing going. The Gators had won each of their previous three games by 32 or more points. The three opponents — LSU, Oklahoma and Missouri — had a combined Ratings Percentage Index of 179.
But the victory over Kentucky, which was No. 2 in the RPI, validated the Gators’ hot play.
Florida Coach Mike White spoke of a victory over Kentucky being good for the Gators’ postseason résumé. The Gators had been 0-3 against ranked opponents this season.
“I think it’d be a huge breakthrough win for us, if we can get it done,” White said on Monday. “… If we play well, maybe we’re in a position to where it’s a two-to-three possession game … if we do this as opposed to that, we can overcome. We can get over the hump and win a really big one.”
Kentucky never led. The Cats trailed by as much as 13 points in the first half before heading into halftime behind 34-26.
For the third straight game, Kentucky had a season-low point total in the first half. The previous low for a first half was the 29 against Georgia on Tuesday. That was below the 32 against Kansas.
Poor shooting contributed to UK’s paltry offense. The Cats made only nine of 30 shots. The Cats’ four players with double-digit scoring averages — Monk, Fox, Isaiah Briscoe and Bam Adebayo — combined to make only five of 23 shots.
Monk missed all five of his shots, one of which came from three-point range.
But poor shooting alone did not explain Kentucky’s uphill half. Florida buried the Cats on the boards, enjoying a 34-13 rebounding advantage. That translated into a 12-2 edge in second-chance points.
Kentucky failed to get a boost from Fox’s return. After missing the Georgia game, he entered the game before the first television timeout.
Florida appeared to have a plan for Fox. The Gators blocked his first two shots, both coming off his signature drives to the rim.
More than once, Florida players stripped the ball from Fox’s grasp before he could get the shot off.
Nor did a switch to a zone defense make much difference. This move, which assistant coach Joel Justus called a “game-changer” against Georgia, came with about nine minutes left in the first half.
Florida made four three-pointers against the zone. Three came in a 71-second span that created UK’s largest first-half deficit (30-17) and prompted a timeout with 4:36 left.
Although Monk missed his first two shots of the second half, Kentucky closed within 37-33. Florida sent in three subs at the 17:46 mark. One of the subs, Canyon Barry rescued the Gators. He drove over Dominique Hawkins for a score.
Then after Hawkins got stripped on a transition drive (Calipari pleaded for a foul), Barry hit a three-pointer.
That put Florida ahead 42-33 and prompted a UK time with 16:48 left.
Florida answered each of UK’s mini runs. Making nine of their first 12 shots helped the Gators keep Kentucky behind.
Calipari called another timeout trying to stem Florida’s momentum with 14:44 left. The timeout followed a fast-break play in which Hill left a pass that Robinson dunked to put the Gators ahead 47-36.
Another such timeout came with 9:00 left. Florida scored seven straight points (the last four coming on fast-break baskets following a turnover and missed post-up shot by Adebayo). That sequence gave Florida its largest lead yet, 69-52.
LSU at Kentucky
7 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN)