Stayin' alive: Kentucky gets needed win over Florida
Lexington, KY (Sports Network) - Back-to-back road losses had dealt a major blow to Kentucky's NCAA Tournament hopes.
But the defending champs returned to Rupp Arena to close the regular season and got their signature win.
Archie Goodwin netted 16 points in the Wildcats' 61-57 triumph over No. 11 Florida on Senior Day.
Kentucky (21-10, 12-6 SEC) netted the final 11 points of the contest.
Julius Mays and Ryan Harrows tallied 13 points apiece for the Wildcats, who picked up their second victory over a Top-25 opponent.
Things went downhill quickly for the Wildcats after freshman Nerlens Noel sustained a season-ending knee injury against Florida in Gainesville on Feb. 12 when the Gators drilled UK, 69-52.
Kentucky improved to 4-3 without its star first-year center. The Wildcats got pounded against Tennessee in their first game without Noel before winning their next three. But they took a step back after losses to Arkansas and Georgia prior to Saturday's tilt.
"Can they beat anybody? Absolutely, they are talented and gifted enough, but I think they're probably still learning to play without Nerlens," Gators head coach Billy Donovan said.
The Gators' leading scorer, Kenny Boynton, didn't take his first second-half shot until there was 17 ticks on the clock and his team down 59-57. And his pull-up jumper from the right wing clanked off the rim before one of the two Wildcat seniors, Mays, sunk two game-sealing free throws at the other end.
"In the last seven minutes, when it was in doubt, they swam like heck," UK head coach John Callipari said. "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 got to swim to it."
Florida (24-6, 14-4) didn't record a point over the final 7:36 of game action.
Boynton finished with just nine points on 4-of-10 shooting for the Gators, who dropped their third straight conference road game.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Erik Murphy and Scottie Wilbekin staked the Gators a 57-50 advantage, but they missed their last 11 shots from the floor as Goodwin took over.
After Goodwin split a pair of free throws, he made a jumper and forced a turnover before throwing down a dunk in transition to pull UK within 57-55 with 4:48 left.
The Wildcats' final six points came via the charity stripe. Harrow sunk two to knot things up and Willie Cauley-Stein split a pair for a 58-57 UK lead with 3:03 to play.
Florida then missed its next five shots and Goodwin made 1-of-2 to make it 59-57 with 25.9 ticks remaining.
Earlier, Kentucky stormed out to an 11-2 start before a 9-0 Gators flurry knotted the game up at 11-11. Boynton's triple a bit later in the opening frame gave Florida its first lead, 27-24, with 4:28 left in the half.
Young then hit a jumper a possession later, but the Wildcats netted seven of the last nine points of the stanza to head into the break with the score tied at 31-31.
Florida fell to 5-4 in SEC road games this year ... Florida shot just 35.7 percent (5-of-14) from beyond the arc, compared to just a 23.5 percent clip (4-of-17) by Kentucky from three ... The Gators haven't won in Lexington since 2007.
03/09 18:41:11 ET