The Kentucky Wildcats' tournament hopes aren't dead quite yet. The defending national champions (21-10, 12-6 in SEC) picked up a huge win over the No. 11 Florida Gators (24-6, 14-4 in SEC), 61-57.
Archie Goodwin paced UK with 16, while Julius Mays and Ryan Harrow each added 13, and Alex Poythress contributed nine and 12 boards.
Erik Murphy was one of only two Gators in double figures, and he finished with a game-high 17 and 11 rebounds.
With their tournament life hanging in the balance, the young Wildcats came out eager to show that they could hang with the SEC-leading Gators.
Behind a balanced effort from the three starting guards, Mays, Harrow and Goodwin, the Wildcats were able to go into halftime tied with the Gators at 31. Murphy paced the Gators from the outset with 11 points and five rebounds in the first half.
The second half would prove to be a game of runs.
The Wildcats fed off of the home crowd early on to lead by as much as eight in the first 10 minutes before Florida came storming back to lead by as much as seven with 5:34 left. The Cats were determined to make a game of it, though, as they answered with a run of their own to tie it up at 57 with just under four minutes to go.
Points were at a premium down the final stretch as physical defense kept both teams from scoring. Free throws from Willie Cauley-Stein, Goodwin and Mays would cap the 11-0 run that finished off the game for the Wildcats.
Erik Murphy's combination of shooting and size will make him a tough matchup for anyone once tournament play gets underway. Jason King noted Murphy's game after he hit a tough jumper in the first half.
Erik Murphy ... such an underrated played. Great touch on that shot. Tough, tough matchup at 6-10— Jason King (@JasonKingESPN) March 9, 2013
ESPN College Basketball set the stage for what was a do-or-die second half for Kentucky.
Bryan Fischer points out a possibly overlooked weakness in Florida's resume heading into the NCAA tournament.
If Iâ€™m looking at UFâ€™s schedule right, itâ€™s possible they could finish without a single road win vs. a tourney team, no?— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) March 9, 2013
Forward Willie Cauley-Stein was huge for the Wildcats in this one. As Daniel Martin points out, Kentucky suffered on both ends of the floor when he was out.
Florida six straight points with Cauley-Stein on the bench, on an 8-0 run. Not good for Kentucky. Rim is wide open.— Daniel Martin (@DanielJMartin_) March 9, 2013
Kentucky came out on fire at the beginning of the second half, but Florida showed it can turn things up a notch when need be. Grantland's Shane Ryan feels that the Gators are truly one of the best teams in the country.
Oh man, Florida is suddenly looking really awesome. I still say Gators at their best > anyone else in the country at their best— Shane Ryan (@ShaneRyanHere) March 9, 2013
Fox Sports poses the question we all want to know: Was this enough to get Kentucky in? Sound off in the comments section.
Does this win get them in? -> #Kentucky takes down #11 Florida 61-57 at home.— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) March 9, 2013
This was a huge win for Kentucky. Florida is a great team and the regular-season SEC champions. The Wildcats absolutely had to have this win if they have any chance at getting into the tournament, and they showed a lot of nerve by closing it out emphatically.
While there wasn't much on the line for the Gators, it has to be disappointing to close out a game on the wrong end of an 11-0 run. They can't allow this poor finish to diminish their confidence heading into the SEC tournament.