- Sunday, March 13 2005 -
SEC Tournament Championship (at Atlanta, GA)
Kentucky - 53 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 4th by AP and 4th by ESPN/USA Today]
Florida - 70 (Head Coach: Billy Donovan) - [Ranked 25th by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Florida 34, Kentucky 27
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Louisiana State 79 - 78 OT|||||Eastern Kentucky 72 - 64|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
ATLANTA -- As the final buzzer blared at the Georgia Dome, signaling the end of the SEC Tournament, one team celebrated wildly and handed out championship t-shirts and hats. The other team walked slowly off the floor with heads bowed and eyes fixed on the ground.
This time was different though. This time it was Florida doing the dancing, leaving two-time defending champion Kentucky to make the long walk back to the locker room without any hardware. After not being able to beat UK in three years, Florida knocked off the Cats for the second time in a week, rushing away for a 70-53 victory in front on 24,408 fans.
"We had the attitude of wanting to take down the champ and Kentucky was the champ," Florida guard Matt Walsh said. "I've got the utmost respect for them, but I can't imagine a better feeling than winning it by beating Kentucky."
Walsh had plenty to crow about after he took home tournament Most Valuable Player honors on the strength of his 26 points against the Cats. Walsh started slowly, but after getting into a brief altercation with UK's Ravi Moss in the second half, Walsh buried back-to-back three-pointers to spark Florida's game-deciding 21-2 run.
The two three-point daggers came at a desperate time for the Gators, who were panicking a bit as the Cats roared back from a 10-point deficit to take 44-40 lead with 11:46 remaining in the game. The minor altercation between Walsh and Moss prompted UK coach Tubby Smith to replace Moss in the lineup, leaving Patrick Sparks to guard Walsh despite giving up six inches in size. Walsh immediately took advantage, splashing a three from the left wing for the Gators' first basket in six minutes, then swished another triple from the corner on the following possession. Walsh added a third bomb a moment later to push the Florida lead to 51-44 with 9:15 left.
"It was 44-40, then Walsh hit those two threes and all the sudden it's 46-44," Moss said. "We never recovered from that. We lost our focus and didn't keep battling."
By the time Florida was done burying the Cats, the scoreboard showed the Gators had erased the demons of previous showdowns with UK where the reptiles folded when faced with adversity. This time the Gators responded to UK's 15-1 run turned the deficit into a 61-46 lead with just over four minutes left.
"We slipped up," UK sophomore Bobby Perry said. "They hit a few big shots and got a few easy lay-ups. A game can turn that quickly. You always want to win the championship game, but it just wasn't our day."
That seemed painfully obvious from the opening tip. Just 19 hours removed from an emotional overtime victory in the semifinals, UK looked like the tank was empty in the early going, as Florida dominated the glass in spurting out to a 20-9 lead. The Gators' desire was evident in the rebounding war, where they pulled down 19 of the game's first 25 boards and ended with a 48-31 edge at the end.
"The first half set the tone for the game," Perry said. "They got the early lead and a team like Florida, with so much fire power, they are hard to come back on. They just ate us up.
"No one is going to back down. You have to put it all on the floor and we didn't do that. We have to come out with fire and we didn't do that. I was baffled by our intensity level."
The heavily pro-UK crowd at the Georgia Dome seemed to will the Cats to the lead in the second half, but Walsh's clutch shots and a slew of bricked shots and turnovers crippled UK down the stretch.
"It just took the wind out of us," senior Josh Carrier said. "It seemed like our balloon just burst and we didn't know how to respond."
The lack of response led to the Cats making the unforgiving walk to the locker room without nets hanging from their necks. It certainly wasn't the ending senior Chuck Hayes (four points, three rebounds) expected.
"You know as well as I do this place is measured by championships," Hayes said. "We let one go (against Florida)."
Quite simply, Florida seized the day. Kentucky didn't.
Joe Crawford shoots against Florida's David Lee