GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Alas, Kentucky's game at Florida Saturday night came down to execution in the final minutes.
Unfortunately for UK, form held as Florida continued its knack for making clutch plays and the Cats saw another possible victory slip away.
Florida's 70-68 victory saddled UK Coach John Calipari with his first back-to-back defeats since 2005. But it was more the agonizing nature of another close-but-an-exploding-cigar loss that inflicted pain, than the end of an obscure, though impressive, personal mark.
"I thought we fought back and did good stuff," Calipari said of UK's rally from a 13-point second-half deficit. "We're just not quite where we need to be."
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For Florida Coach Billy Donovan, he notched his 13th career victory against Kentucky. That tied him with Dean Smith and Roy Skinner for the third-most ever against UK.
Like earlier defeats at Georgia, Alabama and Ole Miss, Kentucky faced a team and town eager to beat the Big Blue. In this case, an O'Connell Center record crowd of 12,633 cheered as Florida took a 55-42 lead with less than 12 minutes left, then fretted as Kentucky rallied.
"Every game is a white-out, a red-out, a black-out, an orange-out," Calipari said with a wry smile. "Something out, and it's sold out."
In this "orange-out," it was Brandon Knight who put Kentucky in position yet again to win. He scored eight of his game-high 24 points during a 17-3 run that got the Cats a 59-58 lead.
"Brandon, he willed us to that score," Calipari said. "He willed us."
In case anyone missed the point, the UK coach added in a soft voice, "He was pretty good."
With the score tied at 61-61, Darius Miller hit a three-pointer from the right wing, or about the same spot he passed up shooting in the final minute at Ole Miss earlier in the week.
After that possible omen, the teams traded the lead four times inside the final 3:35.
Erving Walker, who failed to score double-digit points for only the fifth time this season, put Florida ahead 67-66 with two free throws at the 1:51 mark.
After Jones came up short on a post-up shot over Alex Tyus, Tyus hit an awkward post shot over Miller to put the Gators ahead 69-66 with 70 seconds left.
Jones' driving dunk got UK within one.
But Parsons, a 54.5-percent free thrower, made one free throw with 12.7 seconds left to put Florida ahead 70-68.
Kentucky got a chance to win it. Going against his friend and former AAU teammate Kenny Boynton, Knight put a three-point attempt off the front of the rim at the buzzer.
Kentucky fell to 16-6 overall and 4-4 in the Southeastern Conference. The Cats' record in games decided by seven points or less slipped to 2-5.
Florida improved to 18-5 overall and 7-2 in the SEC. The Gators improved to 9-3 in games decided by six points or less.
Kentucky faced its first halftime deficit since the Alabama game. Yet a 34-32 score didn't seem all that bad.
UK battled foul trouble, but a makeshift lineup of Eloy Vargas, Jarrod Polson, Doron Lamb, Jon Hood and Jones kept Kentucky competitive. Trailing 34-28 with less than two minutes left, the heretofore unheralded subs managed to give UK a lift.
With only six-tenths of a second left, Hood took the inbounds and swished a 15-footer from the right baseline to set the halftime score. That matched Hood's output (1-for-8) in earlier SEC games this season.
Kentucky had won after trailing at halftime only once this season: against Washington on Maui. The way the second half began, it appeared the Cats' record when trailing at halftime would dip to 1-4 overall and 0-3 in the SEC.
Parsons and Tyus combined for nine points inside the first four minutes. Each scored against Miller. Tyus' six points were his first of the game. That flurry put Florida ahead 45-36 and prompted a UK timeout with 16:35 left.
Another flurry by Florida eight minutes into the second half made defeat seem impossible to avoid.
Macklin's post dunk showed UK's vulnerability inside. Parsons swished a three over Miller, which continued his nightmarish defensive half.
That put the Gators ahead 50-42. Even when Tyus fumbled away a post feed, it did not faze Florida. Macklin and Parsons exchanged knowing nods and smiles as Kentucky prepared to inbounds the ball.
A moment later, the two collaborated on a play that could have demoralized UK.
Feeling his oats, Parsons threw a no-look backhand pass to Macklin. Harrellson's fourth foul prevented the dunk. But Macklin, a 38.6-percent free thrower this season, made both.
After DeAndre Liggins charged, Knight fouled Boynton on a three-point attempt. Boynton's three free throws put Florida ahead 55-42 with 11:50 left.
Knight, who tied Patrick Patterson and Rex Chapman for the most 20-point games by a UK freshmen with nine, denied that his return to his native state played a role in his leadership.
"Just knowing how we feel at the end of games when we lose," he said. "I was wanting to do everything I could to put us in position."
Ultimately, Kentucky found itself in an all-too-familiar position.