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Kentucky gets first lead late in second half to beat Florida 71-70 in stunning season finale in Gainesville

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky led just once against Florida. It was all the Wildcats needed to complete a regular-season sweep of the Gators.

EJ Montgomery’s tip-in with 11 seconds remaining capped a second-half comeback by the Wildcats and lifted No. 6 Kentucky to a 71-70 victory over the Gators Saturday in Gainesville. Florida guard’s Andrew Nembhard’s desperation three at the buzzer bounced off the iron and gave Kentucky its fourth straight victory over the Gators.

Nick Richards slams home a dunk in Kentucky’s 71-70 win at Florida Saturday. Richards led the Wildcats with 19 points and scored 17 of those in the second half. (UK Athletics Photo)

The Wildcats (25-6, 15-3), coming off an 81-73 loss to Tennessee earlier this week, trailed by 18 with 11 minutes remaining, but outscored the hosts 30-11 down the stretch to complete the successful comeback. Kentucky is the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament and will play in the quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Friday in Nashville.

Kentucky was without point guard Ashton Hagans who didn’t make the trip because of “personal reasons.” Hagans is expected to rejoin the Wildcats in the postseason.

Tyrese Maxey took over for Hagans at the point-guard slot and finished with seven points. Maxey dished out seven assists and missed his first eight shots before draining a 3-pointer with 9:23 that pulled the Wildcats to within 60-48 after the Gators had built a 59-41 lead midway through the second half.

Already shorthanded without its point guard, Kentucky played without leading scorer Immanuel Quickley down the stretch. Quickley scored Kentucky’s first five points of the second half but fouled out with nine minutes remaining. Quickley finished with 12 points.

Kentucky got a big lift from its bench and got a solid performance from freshman Keion Brooks, who finished with 10 points. Brooks started in place of Hagans and made four of his five field-goal attempts, including two 3-pointers. Backups Nate Sestina and Johnny Juzang combined for 19 points and three shots from long range. Juzang scored 10 and Sestina added nine points.

Nick Richards paced Kentucky with 19 points and scored 17 of those in the second half. Richards scored eight points in the final six minutes to help the Wildcats overcome the Gators.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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