Five takeaways from Florida’s SEC-opening loss vs Kentucky Wildcats

There is a long way to go and a lot of Southeastern Conference games to play, but Florida’s first SEC game of the season will be remembered as one that got away from them in the end.

The Gators lost to the Kentucky Wildcats, 87-85, in a game that Todd Golden’s team led for way too much time to have ended up losing.

Some weaknesses showed up and one came out of nowhere. Either way, Florida did enough to lose a game that would have done wonders for UF’s NCAA Tournament hopes.

But, again, there is a long way to go. Here are five takeaways from the game.

Actually, there were two problems

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

One was that Florida, which has been erratic at the free throw line, missed 11 of 29 attempts in this game. And that included Walter Clayton Jr. and Zyon Pullin making 9 of 11.

The other issue was Florida not being able to stay with Kentucky’s guards and giving up too many baskets at the rim.

But that is a problem that is not going away

James Gilbert/Getty Images
James Gilbert/Getty Images

Players don’t get quicker during a season. If anything, they get slower.

Let’s face it — this is going to be the way it is in almost every game this season where it comes down to the last five minutes because Florida is too good on offense to get blown out and too bad on defense to blow good teams out.

Saturday was the perfect example

Doug Engle/Ocala Star-Banner
Doug Engle/Ocala Star-Banner

Even on a day when Will Richard – who came in red-hot – went 0-for-8 from the field, Florida still managed to score 85 points. Pullin and Clayton each scored 23 points.

But, as Pullin said, “We can’t be giving up 87 points.”

No, that is not a good formula for winning in this conference.

Oh, and the thing that went away

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

That would be the rebounding, which has been a staple of Florida’s success this year. Even with Micah Handlogten getting 12 boards, Florida only had a 43-40 advantage and only scored 16 second-chance points.

Give Kentucky credit

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Because the O-Dome crowd did everything it could, even with a ton of Kentucky fans there. The game that turned into a free throw contest in the final 10 minutes. And a lot of it was Florida grabbing on defense.

“We had too many blown assignments,” said Clayton. Kentucky made it tough on the Gators by ramping up the three-point defense in the second half.

“We gave them so many good looks and they are going to make some,” John Calipari said. “In the second half, we wanted to show that’s not who we are.”

Florida was 1-of-11 from three after going 8-for-20 in the first half.

Bonus quote

James Gilbert/Getty Images
James Gilbert/Getty Images

“What kills me is 1-for-11 on threes,” Golden said after the game. “A turnover here, a missed shot there was the difference. This was a game I expected to win.”

Next up

Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Florida next travels for its first road game of the 2024 portion of the schedule with a matchup against the Ole Miss Rebels on Wednesday, Jan. 10, in Oxford, Mississippi. Tipoff is slated for a late 9 p.m. ET start and the game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.

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Story originally appeared on Gators Wire