GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In Kentucky's pursuit of perfection, the Cats weren't perfect.
They missed one.
Free throw, that is. In the deafening tornado that was the O'Connell Center on Saturday night, Kentucky was 21-of-22 from the foul line and needed every last one to hold off the gritty Gators 68-61.
Billy Donovan's disappointing club gave the task of knocking off the nation's No. 1 team its best shot and then some, shooting 49 percent from the field and constantly beating Kentucky to the basket on aggressive drives.
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And yet John Calipari's Cats did what they needed to do, which is what you have to do on the road. Kentucky shot 46.8 percent, got 18 points in the second half and 23 overall from Aaron Harrison, plus 19 points and eight rebounds from Karl-Anthony Towns.
Plus, in the face of the frenzy that was the Florida crowd, Kentucky kept stepping to the line and knocking them down.
Aaron Harrison was 8-for-8. Towns was 7-for-7. Willie Cauley-Stein was 5-for-5. Andrew Harrison was one-of-two, his miss coming at the 42-second mark after the Cats had made 16 straight at the stripe.
Andrew hit the second one, however, and by that time Kentucky led 64-59 and a 23-0 mark overall and 10-0 in the SEC was practically in the books.
"We needed a game like this," Aaron Harrison said afterward. "We haven't been in that many battles this year."
Florida came to battle. At 12-10 overall and 5-4 in the conference coming into a College GameDay atmosphere Saturday night, the Gators needed a win over the nation's best team to (a) turn the season around and (b) just climb on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
"Florida fought and played to win," Calipari said.
"In 23 games, I felt like that was the first time we played the game win this year," Donovan said afterward.
Florida's game plan involved physical play and trying to beat UK off the dribble. It worked for a while, too, especially early. The Gators led by as many as nine points in the first half.
"The crowd was so loud we couldn't communicate," Towns said afterward. "We couldn't hear the calls."
Calipari wasn't buying that afterward, but by the end of the first half, Kentucky seemed to settle down and find a rhythm.
The visitors tied the game at 28, but trailed 30-28 at intermission. When Aaron Harrison nailed a triple from the right corner with 16:44 left, UK was on top 37-35.
And it was just the start of Harrison's heroics.
"When the chips are down, we can give it to Aaron and we know he's going to bring us back," Towns said.
"Aaron was the best player in college basketball tonight," Calipari said.
The Kentucky coach said afterward he just wished he could get more consistency from his team. Andrew Harrison was great against Georgia, then took a step back Saturday night. Aaron was off against Georgia, but great against Florida.
Plus, the Cats were without Trey Lyles, who did not make the trip to Gainesville and missed his third straight game because of an undisclosed illness.
"Lyles presents a big matchup problem," Donovan said.
It might seem odd to say about a team that is 23-0, but this was the kind of game that will no doubt help Kentucky down the road. It was a tough, road win. And there are more tough road tasks down the road, starting with LSU on Tuesday night.
Florida found its A-game.
"Florida played most of the game without (Michael) Frazier — he played 23 minutes," Calipari said, "and they still had a chance to win the game. That tells you how well Florida played."
So well it forced Kentucky to put it on the line. As Florida was seven-of-14 at the line for the night — the Gators were two-of-six from the stripe in the final 5:28 — UK missed just one of 22.
In this pursuit of perfect, Florida forced the Cats to be nearly perfect.