LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky held Florida scoreless for the final 7 1/2 minutes on Saturday, and the Wildcats earned a 61-57 Southeastern Conference victory over the No. 11 Gators, perhaps salvaging their season from the brink of missing the NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats (21-10, 12-6 in the SEC) were pressed firmly against the wall when Florida took a 57-50 lead with 7:34 to play, but it was the last time the Gators would score.
The Gators missed their last 11 shots, a combination of Kentucky's clamped-down defense and Florida's seizing offense, which settled for long jumpers while the keystone of the Wildcats' interior defense, Willie Cauley-Stein, played with four fouls.
Kentucky took the lead with 3:03 to play on Cauley-Stein's free throw. Archie Goodwin and Julius Mays sealed the victory with three free throws in the final 30 seconds.
Kentucky opened the game on an 11-2 run, forcing Gators coach Billy Donovan to take a timeout in the first minute of the game in an attempt to calm the raucous Rupp Arena crowd.
Florida (24-6, 14-4) worked its way back in the game, tying the score three times in the first half before taking its first lead at 27-24 on Kenny Boynton's 3-pointer with 4:26 until halftime.
Boynton led all scorers with nine points in the first half. Gators guard Scottie Wilbekin was limited in the first half, picking up his second foul with 12:35 left and sitting the rest of the way.
Cauley-Stein sat out the final 9 1/2 minutes of the first half with two fouls, but he led the Wildcats' surge early in the second half. He blocked a shot by Patric Young on the first possession of the half, and Kentucky turned that into a tie-breaking lay-up by Ryan Harrow.
Then Cauley-Stein slammed home a fast-break dunk on the next possession. He played with the head of steam the Wildcats needed to energize through Florida's attack, but he picked up his fourth foul at the 13:42 mark, at which point Kentucky led, 45-38.
Coach John Calipari took him out but quickly re-inserted him. He wasn't the same upon re-entering the game with the burden of four fouls, but Florida continued to strike from the perimeter instead of taking it inside with big man Young.
NOTES: Kentucky finished its home schedule with a 15-2 record. The Wildcats are 66-2 at home in four years under John Calipari. ... Archie Goodwin finished with 16 points and has scored double figures in 23 of 31 games this season. ... Despite the loss, Florida wrapped up its second conference championship in three years and third in seven years under coach Billy Donovan. Florida has won five of its six SEC titles during Donovan's tenure. ... Kentucky leads the all-time series against Florida, 94-34.