- Tuesday, February 4 2003 -
Florida - 55 (Head Coach: Billy Donovan) - [Ranked 1st by AP]
Kentucky - 70 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 6th by AP]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 45, Florida 22
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Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
UK stakes claim, destroys No. 1 Florida
Florida waltzed into Rupp Arena the newly anointed top team in all of college basketball. The Gators left a humiliated group after Kentucky turned them into pretenders with a 70-55 blitzing at Rupp Arena.
"For us to play as well as we did and handle Florida in the fashion we did, as a coach, you just don't expect that," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "I hope it wasn't a fluke."
Smith should rest easy because the Cats shredded Florida with suffocating first half defense and a barrage of three-point shooting and dunks to turn a 15-14 lead into a 45-22 halftime advantage. The lead grew to as much as 60-31 with 12:49 remaining as the Rupp record crowd of 24,459 stayed in a frenzy.
"They were a deserving number one," Smith said of Florida. "Our crowd and players were really into it. You could just feel the energy in the building. For us, it was a great college basketball game. We came focused and ready to play."
The win gave UK (17-3, 7-0 SEC) a leg up in the Southeastern Conference's East Division race, while increasing the Cats' winning streak to 11 games. Florida (18-3, 7-1), which hadn't lost since December 3 to West Virginia, had its 14-game winning streak snapped just one day after ascending to the No. 1 ranking for the first time in school history.
Still, Florida Coach Billy Donovan didn't exactly give UK all the credit for the rout after the game.
"Their pressure wasn't as good as Kansas' pressure the way I looked at it," Donovan said. "Our guys just hung their head when our shots didn't go. When that happened, we stopped defending and tried to go one-on-one. That played into Kentucky's hands."
For all intents and purposes, UK won the game with a 22-2 flurry late in the first half, which was capped by a series which saw a Cliff Hawkins' uncontested lay-in after Brett Nelson inexplicably saved the ball under UK's goal, then a Keith Bogans steal and dunk and then a Bogans alley-oop to Chuck Hayes.
Gerald Fitch, who had 11 first half points, said Florida, which bragged about not getting rattled in Rupp, sure looked the part at the break.
"I don't know, but a 20-point lead at the half, I'd get rattled," Fitch said. "It's tough to come into Rupp. The crowd was big time, which made it even worse (for Florida)."
Bogans led UK with 15 points, all in the first half, while Fitch added 14 and Hawkins dished out eight assists. Florida was led by its two precocious freshman, Anthony Roberson (18 points) and Matt Walsh (15 points).
UK has said it doesn't care about making statements, but on a night when the Cats looked every bit the part of a Final Four team, Bogans may have made a lasting impression as the final minute ticked off.
The senior yelled at Roberson from the bench, no doubt letting the freshman who had made some bold remarks about Rupp know that UK has a claim to No. 1 as well.
Florida's Anthony Roberson and Chuck Hayes fight for a loose ball