GAINESVILLE — Nick Richards scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half and No. 6 Kentucky rallied from 18 points down to stun Florida 71-70 on Saturday.
The shorthanded Wildcats (25-6, 15-3 Southeastern Conference) needed the comeback to avoid losing consecutive games for the first time in nearly three months.
Richards, Keion Brooks Jr. and EJ Montgomery led the shocker in Gainesville. Brooks hit a floater in the lane with 59 second remaining to cut the lead to 70-69. Florida followed with a shot-clock violation on the other end, giving the Wildcats a chance to take their first lead of the game.
Brooks missed a driving layup, and Montgomery's tip-in was initially waived off as a cylinder violation. Officials reviewed it and gave Montgomery the basket for a 71-70 lead.
Richards missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Florida a final chance to win it. But Andrew Nembhard's 3-pointer bounced twice off the rim before missing, setting off Kentucky's raucous celebration.
Scottie Lewis scored a career-high 19 for Florida (19-12, 11-7). Noah Locke added 14, and Keyontae Johnson 12. Florida led by 18 points with 11:48 left in the game.
Kentucky played without point guard Ashton Hagans, who didn’t make the trip three days after arguing with coach John Calipari on the bench during a home loss to Tennessee. The Cats also played the final nine minutes without guard Immanuel Quickley, who fouled out with 12 points.
Calipari announce Hagans’ absence a little more than an hour before tipoff.
“He and I met a couple days ago and he asked to step away for a couple days for personal reasons,” Calipari posted on Twitter. “I support his decision. We are going to need him at 100% for the postseason.”
Without Hagans, who is arguably the league’s best perimeter defender, and with Quickley limited to 21 minutes because of foul trouble, Florida’s guards had a much easier time — at least until the waning minutes.
Lewis made 5 of 8 shots and got to the free-throw line 10 times. Locke made three 3-pointers, his most in four games against Kentucky. Locke was scoreless in Lexington two weeks ago.
But it was Richards who took over down the stretch, taking advantage of Kerry Blackshear Jr.'s absence. Blackshear injured his left wrist in the first half. He went to the locker room and returned with it heavily taped. He tried to play in the second half, but he ended up on the bench with it wrapped in ice.
Kentucky: The Wildcats already clinched the No. 1 seed in next week's SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee.
Florida: The Gators have to wait and see their seeding. They could be as low as No. 5.
Kentucky: Gets an extended break before playing in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament on Friday in Nashville.
Florida: Awaits seeding in the SEC Tournament. Will begin play Thursday or Friday.