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Freshman guard Keldon Johnson lays the ball up. UK mens basketball played Florida at Rupp Arena on Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

The UK men’s basketball team closed their regular season out on a high note as they downed the Florida Gators, 66-57 on Saturday. Likely the last game without injured forward Reid Travis, the Cats stepped up on defense to compensate for the loss of their senior big man.

The Cats controlled the first half, though that wouldn’t necessarily be reflected in the score. Across the first several minutes, the Cats held Florida to very, very bad shots. UK failed to capitalize, and the teams only managed ten combined points in the first four-and-a-half minutes.

Things opened up more for the Cats when they increased their lead to 25-16, their largest of the game to that point. An 8-0 run by the Gators shut down UK’s advantage in the game, and the visitors from Gainesville eventually held a 31-30 halftime lead. UK guard Ashton Hagans led all scorers with 11.

Both teams had a difficult time finding separation after that, as the first time either team’s lead grew past four points wasn’t until the 12:15 mark of the second half.

Kentucky found a lot of their second-half urgency through PJ Washington. The Cats had struggled to score late in the first half and early in the second, thanks to Florida moving into a zone defense. Washington, who had only four points on 2-6 shooting in the first half, finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, providing offense when there was none to be found.

Things sped up after the long offensive lull for the Cats as they broke off a 17-4 run that saw their lead swell to double-digits with less than six minutes remaining. Tyler Herro got himself involved in the offense, providing a couple highlight baskets for the Cats during that stretch.

The primary reason for this run, though, was UK’s defense. The Cats held Florida without a basket for almost nine minutes, when Kevarrius Hayes hit an and-one basket that brought the Kentucky lead to within 11.

EJ Montgomery was also a major part in propelling this spurt. His aggressive rebounding (six total, three offensive) held Hayes, a notorious competitor on the glass, to just over half his rebound total from his last game. UK dominated the glass as a team, outrebounding the Gators 39-23.

Their next stop will be the SEC Tournament in Nashville, where they’ll start play on Friday.