- Sunday, March 6 2005 -
Kentucky - 52 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 3rd by AP and 3rd by ESPN/USA Today]
Florida - 53 (Head Coach: Billy Donovan) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Florida 26, Kentucky 25
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Game Writeup - Written by Darrell Bird; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
'Hard, but not smart,' Tubby says of Florida loss
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tubby Smith wasn't happy with a no-call involving a late steal by Florida's Anthony Roberson in the Gators' 53-52 upset victory over No. 3 Kentucky on Sunday, but it was a series of poor plays by the Cats that prevented UK from getting its 1,900th victory.
"We've won our share of close games in this series, but this is one we felt like we let slip away," Smith said afterwards. "I think we played hard, but we didn't play very smart."
With UK leading 52-51 with less than 20 seconds to play, guard Patrick Sparks dribbled away much of the 35 second shot clock before trying to make his move when Roberson slapped the ball away. Sparks fouled in retaliation and Roberson buried both free throws with 15.2 seconds remaining for what would prove the 53-52 Florida win that snapped an eight-game losing streak to UK.
More troublesome was Kentucky's last possession with 11.4 seconds remaining to get a basket and escape Gainesville with a victory. But the botch play ended with a Kelenna Azubuike three-point try with nobody set to rebound.
"That was a real bust of a play," Smith said. "It was supposed to be a misdirection play where we would get the ball inside to Chuck Hayes. We wanted to get it to our money guy because we knew he'd get a strong move inside or he'd get fouled. But we lined up wrong. Randolph Morris lined up on the wrong side. I should've called another timeout."
Regardless, the outcome should never have been delayed until the final possession.
Trailing 41-37 midway through the second half, UK's dominating defense forced Florida into a turnover on five straight possessions. Kentucky, however, managed just one basket during that near five-minute stretch, a 12-foot jumper by Morris of an offensive rebound, and continued to trail by the time Florida finally scored again. On the other possessions, Chuck Hayes missed a wide open look down low, Rajon Rondo misfired when forcing a shot in the lane, Hayes made a huge steal but had the shot blocked by Matt Walsh on his way to a dunk and Rondo missed another short jumper.
At long last, two straight baskets by Azubuike put Kentucky in the lead and the Cats later had a wonderful opportunity to seal the victory when they held a 49-45 advantage and had the ball with less than two minutes to go. But on its possession, Sparks burned almost nothing off the shot clock and launched an ill-advised 18-footer. It rimmed out hard and Florida's Walsh scored on a run out layup and was fouled by Sparks. The three-point play made it 49-48 and set the stage for the last minute theatrics.
"Poor execution," Smith said. "We gave up baskets on the defensive end. We had silly shots that hurt us on our end, a lot of questionable shots. And turnovers raised their ugly head again."
Kentucky had 17 turnovers and shot only 42.3 percent.
With the loss, Kentucky will enter next week's Southeastern Conference Tournament in Atlanta with a 23-4 overall record and 14-2 in the SEC. Florida improved to 20-7, 12-4 in the league.
Kentucky will open SEC Tourney play at 7:00 Friday against the Tennessee-Arkansas winner.
The only good news for Kentucky about suffering a loss this close to Selection Sunday is that they certainly were not alone. No. 1 and previously unbeaten Illinois and Kansas also lost games on the final day of the regular season.
"Maybe this loss," Smith rationalized, "will give us a sense of urgency about the need to get better."
Florida's David Lee grabs the ball in front of Rajon Rondo
Ravi Moss shoots over Florida's Lee Humphrey