Kentucky’s rally to beat Florida keeps its hopes of an at-large bid alive

They're in. They're out. They're in. They're out. They're...

It's been that way for weeks now for defending national champion Kentucky when it comes to making the NCAA tournament. On the final Saturday of the regular season the Wildcats faced a must-win game against No. 11 Florida and found a way to earn that victory down the stretch 61-57 and breathe new life into their postseason hopes.

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Kentucky is trying to avoid becoming the third defending champion to miss the tournament in the past six seasons. Florida (2008) and North Carolina (2010) were the most recent teams to suffer that embarrassment.

Kentucky was left for dead just two days ago following a listless outing against a mediocre Georgia team that followed a loss to Arkansas. Coach John Calipari admitted afterward he hasn't done a good job coaching this season's team.

Regardless of how much truth was in that statement, his team responded against the Gators, especially in the winning moments. The Wildcats finished on an 11-0 run and held the Gators without a point in the final 7 minutes. Kentucky trailed by seven with fewer than 6 minutes remaining but surged ahead by finding ways to score and preventing the Gators from doing so.

Kentucky seemed to make every play down the stretch with Willie Cauley-Stein using his length and athleticism to make a major impact on the defensive end. Cauley-Stein played the final 13 minutes with four fouls.

The Wildcats remain on the bubble but in a more favorable position now than before the game. They earned their second victory over a team in top 50 RPI standings and beat the regular season Southeastern Conference champion.

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At 21-10 overall and 12-6 in the SEC, Kentucky can help itself with a deep run in the conference tournament next week. It could use a few more quality wins and would need to get to the semifinals to make that happen. The Wildcats appear likely to earn a spot in the field and an opportunity to defend their title if they can make that run.

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