Florida senior forward Keyontae Johnson — who averaged a team-high 16 points per game last season before suffering a traumatic medical emergency that has kept him off the court since — earned a ceremonial start Saturday at the O’Connell Center as the Gators welcomed No. 7 Kentucky.
The Wildcats hopped out to a 12-point lead at halftime en route to a 71-63 wire-to-wire win.
Kentucky improves to 14-4 in conference play and will receive the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament set to begin Wednesday.
Florida, on the other hand, drops to 9-9 in conference action and will receive the No. 9 seed in the tournament.
With just under a minute to go in the second half, senior Florida guard Tyree Appleby hit a fast-break jumper to cut the deficit to six and make it a two-possession game.
But the Gators failed to score on their ensuing possession and a costly Appleby turnover led to four Kentucky free throws to seal the victory.
Florida struggled shooting from beyond the arc — sinking just three of 23 attempts. Appleby and Myreon Jones each made a 3-pointer, but the senior guard duo combined for 2-13 (15.4%) from deep.
Senior forwards Colin Castleton and Anthony Duruji were the only Gators who scored double-digit points.
Castleton dropped 23 on 57.9% shooting and grabbed 11 boards to post his ninth double-double this season.
Duruji added 10 points on 50% shooting and collected five rebounds.
Gator Guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr. scored seven points but all via free throws as the graduate student shot 0-9 from the field.
The Gators will prepare for the SEC Tournament in Tampa where they’ll face the No. 8 seed — Texas A&M — Thursday at noon. The game will air on SEC Network and the winner will advance to the quarterfinals Friday against top-seeded Auburn.