LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky is making its ninth life count.
The Wildcats may have salvaged their NCAA Tournament hopes with a 61-57 upset of No. 11 Florida on Saturday at raucous Rupp Arena.
Kentucky closed the game with an 11-0 run and held the Gators scoreless for the final 7:36 to overcome a late seven-point deficit against the Southeastern Conference’s regular season champion.
“I think what we did today was show, when we’re at our best, we’re pretty good,” UK coach John Calipari said.
Freshman guard Archie Goodwin led Kentucky (21-10, 12-6 SEC) with 16 points, including two of the biggest plays of the day during the Wildcats’ game-closing run. A jumper with 5:07 remaining cut Florida’s lead to 57-53, followed by a steal and run-out dunk to energize the Senior Day crowd of 24,294.
The Wildcats also got 13 points apiece from guards Julius Mays and Ryan Harrow, as well as nine points and a game-high 12 rebounds from forward Alex Poythress, who Calipari declared “grew up” on this day.
Mays, UK’s lone active senior, made a pair of free throws with nine seconds remaining to clinch the win. Harrow committed only one turnover in 31 minutes against one of the nation's elite defensive teams.
"Ryan Harrow, when he's playing well, it's a lot easier on this team," Calipari said.
It took contributions from almost each member of Kentucky’s eight-man rotation, but particularly from freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein, who has stepped into the starting role since Nerlens Noel suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first matchup against the Gators.
Cauley-Stein scored six points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots despite being saddled with serious foul trouble for most of the game. He played the final 11-plus minutes with four fouls, providing a much-needed inside presence against the Gators, who had consistently worked the ball in the lane for easy baskets while he watched from the bench.
"He’s long, he’s athletic," Florida coach Billy Donovan said of Cauley-Stein. "I thought he played a very good game. He’s still got a ways to go offensively, but I love his energy, his motor and the way he plays.”
After a Scottie Wilbekin hit a 3-pointer to give Florida a 57-50 lead with 7:36 remaining, the Gators had five turnovers and missed 11 shots on their final nine possessions.
Florida (24-6, 14-4 SEC) was led by forward Erik Murphy with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Patric Young added 10 points for the Gators. But Mike Rosario, Casey Prather and Wilbekin, who combined for 38 points in Florida’s 69-52 win over UK in Gainesville, managed only 17 on Saturday.
Kentucky moves on to the SEC Tournament in Nashville next week. The Cats’ seed has yet to be determined, but they currently occupy the No. 2 position and would play on Friday after receiving a double-bye.
Said Calipari: “Now, the question is going to be, when we beat Missouri, what did we do? We reverted back. We played the way we want to play instead of the way we have to play. Not really together. When it goes bad, I’m going to blame somebody else. That happened for two games (in losses to Arkansas and Georgia). We can’t do that again.”
• UK leads the all-time series with Florida 94-34, including a 48-8 mark in Lexington.
• The Cats shot 39.3 percent from the field, marking the first time this season they have won while shooting less than 40 percent.
• Under Calipari, UK is 74-2 when holding the opponent to 63 or fewer points.