LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—Last year, Florida ran through the NCAA tournament. This season, the Gators are dominating the Southeastern Conference.
Top-ranked Florida (23-2, 16-0) won its 16th straight overall, 64-61 on Saturday night, and fifth in a row against No. 20 Kentucky—the program that has been the league standard bearer.
“We’re just trying to build and be like Kentucky is,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “Sometimes maybe people have harsh expectations, and that’s unfair. We’re trying to build a program, build a tradition.”
This one came down to a last-second 3-point attempt by Ramel Bradley that would have tied the score, but the defending national champions held on for the victory.
“I thought it was going to fall in,” Bradley said. “It was a tough shot to get off.”
Florida was up 63-54 with 20 seconds left before Bradley hit consecutive 3s to cut the margin to three. Prior to that, Kentucky (18-7, 7-3) had made just one of 19 attempts from beyond the arc and was threatening the school-worst 1-of-19 performance set in 2002 against South Carolina.
It had been 20 years since the Wildcats, college basketball’s winningest program, lost five times in a row to one opponent. Tennessee was the last to do it from 1975-77. No team has beaten Kentucky in six straight.
“Everyone just stepped it up a little more, and you definitely need to do that when playing in front of a great crowd like (Kentucky’s), here at a historical place,” Florida guard Taurean Green said.
A record crowd of 24,465 was hoping to see Kentucky’s 400th victory at Rupp Arena. Instead, the Gators won back-to-back games in the building for the first time since 1988-89.
During practices this week, Kentucky players watched footage of a game between the two teams in 2003 in which Florida came in No. 1 but instead was walloped by the Wildcats 70-55.
This one was far different, both in the outcome and the margin.
Corey Brewer scored 16 points to lead the Gators. Bradley had 20 points and Randolph Morris added 18 for the Wildcats.
Green nailed a 3-pointer with 8 minutes to go in the first half that gave the Gators their biggest lead at 30-14. But Kentucky followed seconds later with a 10-0 run, pulling within four on a jumper by Bobby Perry.
Green hit his third 3-pointer in three attempts to stop the run, and Jonathan Mitchell made a layup just before halftime to stretch the Gators’ lead to 36-27.
The Gators kept the Wildcats at a distance until early in the second half, when Florida big men Joakim Noah and Al Horford picked up their third fouls. That’s when Morris went to work.
Morris scored three straight buckets for the Wildcats midway through the second half and used an off-balanced jumper to cut the Florida lead to 43-40. Florida misfired on several possessions to keep Kentucky close.
Backup Florida center Chris Richard had a dunk less than 8 minutes into the game to set a season high with 11 points.
“He’s a talented player,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “He would be starting on many teams in many programs in America.”
Kentucky held the nation’s field-goal percentage leader to 47 percent, but the Wildcats managed to make just 38 percent of their shots—and 14 percent from 3-point range.
“We learned that we can play with anybody,” Kentucky freshman guard Jodie Meeks said. “Florida is the No. 1 team in the country, and we came out and played them hard.”