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Cats get a lesson in finishing in loss to Florida

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Andrew Harrison had 20 points in UK's loss to Florida on Saturday night. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics) Andrew Harrison had 20 points in UK's loss to Florida on Saturday night. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
UK was in as good of a position as John Calipari could have hoped for.

After a driving layup by Andrew Harrison, the Wildcats led No. 3/4 Florida by seven with barely 11 minutes to play in an electric Rupp Arena.

But even then, he figured the veteran Gators would make a run. He figured his team would be tested in the final minutes.

He was right, because Florida didn't waste any time getting back into it. Within three minutes, the Gators had a lead. From there, they did what they've done all season.

"What they did, they've done -- I'm guessing -- 10 games this year, where, with five minutes to go, four minutes to go, three minutes to go, it's anybody's ballgame," Calipari said. "Then they just grinded better than the other team grinds it, like they did us. They were just a little too experienced for us down the stretch."

Fittingly, it was a trio of seniors that carried Florida (23-2, 12-0 Southeastern Conference) to its 17th victory in a row by a final of 69-59.

When the Gators needed points, Billy Donovan put Scottie Wilbekin into pick-and-rolls. He responded by scoring 12 points over the decisive final 10:41 during which Florida outscored UK 31-14 to finish with 23 points and zero turnovers.

When the Gators wanted to go inside, they went to Patric Young. He delivered by scoring eight of his 10 points over the first four minutes of Florida's game-ending run.

When the Gators needed a hustle play, leading scorer Casey Prather (24 points, four steals) was there, most notably on an offensive rebound with 1:27 left. On the play, Prather skied over three Wildcats with his team leading by five to all but salt away victory.

"We have to make that play," said Andrew Harrison, who had a team-high 20 points on Saturday night.

It's those kinds of plays that mark fine line between winning and losing in a game such as this one.

"We lost to a good team," Calipari said. "I'm not happy. We lost to a good team. But we had our chances and we're not ready to win that kind of game, and I told them that."

For the better part of 29 minutes, it looked as if UK (19-6, 9-3 SEC) was indeed ready. The No. 14/13 Cats had played their best defense of the season, holding Florida to an average of just 0.86 points on its first 44 possessions.

To follow that, UK had a series of breakdowns and miscommunications, all of which had to do with Florida's execution. Over the final 13 possessions of the game -- excluding the last one when the Gators ran out the clock -- Florida scored 31 points for an astounding average of 2.38 points per possession.

"Florida deserved to win the game," Calipari said. "When they got all those rebounds late and the execution, it's just an effort that I'm going to go get this ball. They got those three rebounds that cost us seven points. In a game like that, you can't recover with that least amount of time left."

Especially not with Florida locking down defensively.

Florida entered the game ranked as one of the best defenses in the country and backed it up. UK shot the ball reasonably well (47.6 percent), but managed only eight second-chance points on nine offensive rebounds, an area that has been UK's strength all season.

"We didn't execute well enough," Harrison said. "We just didn't make enough plays at the end."

Calipari praised Harrison for his play for most of the game. The freshman point guard overcame a 1-for-7 start from the field to shoot 6-of-12 and 8-of-8 at the line, but the senior he was matchup up with was simply better at the end.

"I thought Andrew played a terrific basketball game, but the last four minutes, Scottie just outplayed him," Calipari said.

As UK looks to move forward, it's facts like that one Calipari will be asking his players to face.

"So we've got to understand and listen and not blame each other," Calipari said. "Take responsibility. If a guy outplayed you, admit it, the guy outplayed me."

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