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From the Pressbox: Cats take down Gators with defense

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Kentucky's win over Florida on Saturday was impressive for what the Wildcats did not do as much as what they did.

  • UK did not hit 40 percent of its field goal attempts and still won for the first time this season;
  • UK failed to shoot a higher percentage from the field and still won, for the first time in seven such games;
  • UK did not score 70 points, and won for only the second time in nine games when scoring below that mark.

Kentucky's game plan to defend Florida - the team with the Southeastern Conference's most efficient offense and the team averaging almost nine 3s per game - was to force the Gators inside the arc. Once there, the plan said to make them take "tough 2s" and rebound the misses. And that's exactly what the Cats did down the stretch, when the game turned in UK's favor.

The Wildcats and Gators both ranked in the nation's top 10 in 2-point defense before last Saturday, but when blocked shots were taken out of the equation, leaving only the contested ones, Kentucky dropped to 50th. But in those final minutes, with Willie Cauley-Stein in foul trouble, UK could not go for blocks and had to rely on simply contesting the Gators' shots. Florida missed 11 in a row.

If the Kentucky defense that we saw in the last seven-and-a-half minutes of that Florida win keeps showing up, UK won't have to worry itself with "bubble" talk.

Kentucky was switching defenders on Florida's patented pick-and-roll plays and during that stretch run and there was a possession in which Alex Poythress was matched up on a driving Scottie Wilbekin. All season long, that kind of mismatch has resulted in baskets and/or fouls, but Poythress played it perfectly, misdirecting Wilbekin into a missed shot.

That's one example of the kind of defense that happened on possession after possession in those final minutes - 14 consecutive scoreless ones over the final 7:36, to be exact - and it's why Kentucky won a game for the first time all season when it failed to crack 40 percent from the field with its own shots. You have to win those kinds of games in the postseason and if this team can sustain that kind of defensive effort, it has a chance to make a little noise in March.

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