Lexington, Ky. • Kentucky faces a difficult road toward an NCAA tournament bid, but the Wildcats rallied past No. 11 Florida 61-57 on Saturday to help their cause with the committee.
The Gators looked ready to hand a final blow to the Wildcats’ postseason hopes after a 19-5 run provided a 57-50 lead with 7½ minutes remaining. Kentucky responded by scoring the final 11 points of the game to boost the Wildcats’ NCAA prospects.
The defending national champions (21-10, 12-6) need at least another win in next week’s Southeastern Conference tournament to solidify their tournament chances, but beating Florida clinched the No. 2 seed.
"They swam like heck," said Kentucky coach John Calipari, who used terms such as "sink or swim" and "do or die" Friday to describe his team’s chances. "In the last seven minutes, when it was in doubt, they swam like heck. When you’re going to drown, you want to die, don’t swim. If you want to live, the life raft is over there, you’ve got to swim to it.
"As a matter of fact, it’s kind of breezing away from you, so you’re going to have to swim real hard, and they did."
Kentucky’s win ended a two-game losing streak and increased the prospect that the Wildcats needed to win the SEC tournament in Nashville to secure a bid. The Wildcats came away with their second win against a top-25 opponent — they also beat then-No. 16 Mississippi — and followed another quality win against Missouri two weeks ago.
Julius Mays’ two free throws with 9.4 seconds remaining capped Kentucky’s comeback, a fitting end for the fifth-year senior transfer playing his final regular-season game for the Wildcats. He finished with 13 points.
"I have had big moments in my college career, but that one was probably my biggest one because we needed that win more than anything to keep our hopes alive," said Mays, who was honored before the game along with senior guard Twany Beckham. "I told coach when we went into that timeout that I wanted the ball. He didn’t draw the play the way I ran it, but I wanted that ball and I wanted to shoot those free throws."
Archie Goodwin’s nine points in the second half set the stage for Kentucky’s rally. With the Wildcats trailing 57-50, the freshman scored five straight points and Ryan Harrow (13 points) added two free throws to tie the game.
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