- Sunday, March 4 2007 -
Kentucky - 72 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Florida - 85 (Head Coach: Billy Donovan) - [Ranked 5th by AP and 4th by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Florida 43, Kentucky 43
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Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Gators make it six straight against Cats
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Six times Kentucky has lined up and given Florida its best shot. Six times the Gators have absorbed the Cats' body blow and then delivered their own right cross to the jaw, flooring UK each and every time.
Florida turned in a champions' performance, throttling UK in the second half on its way to an 85-72 victory in front of 12,164 fans at the O'Connell Center. It was the Gators' sixth consecutive victory over UK, making them first Southeastern Conference opponent in history to trip the Cats that many times in a row.
"I think it means something because of Kentucky's program and what they've done in this league, they really have dominated this league and been the model of success in this league," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "Sometimes things go in cycles. I don't know that one game has anything to do with the next. What we are trying to build can't compare to what Kentucky has been able to do so I don't really try to compare them."
By comparison's sake, UK was no match for the Gators in a second half rush that saw Florida shake off two weeks worth of doldrums and flourish thanks to a suffocating defense and dead-eye offense. The Gators made 64 percent of their shots, the highest total since Duke converted 65.4 percent in the legendary 1992 NCAA Tournament game.
"Seventy percent is unacceptable," UK forward Bobby Perry said. "You can't win basketball games like that. They're a great shooting team. When they have that inside-out game going they are a tough team to guard. When they get open shots they are going to go down."
For a half both teams appeared as though they couldn't miss. The Cats jumped out to a 19-13 edge on the strength of Perry's 16 first half points, including four three-pointers. Feeding off nine Florida turnovers UK was able to get out in transition and get easier looks, but the Gators stayed right in the game by knocking down six three-pointers, including two each by Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey and Walter Hodge. The half featured 13 lead changes and ended in a 43-43 deadlock, similar to UK's loss in Gainesville a year ago.
That's when the Gators chomped down and got back to playing the type of defense that led them to last year's title and the 11 victories in their first 12 SEC games this season. Florida held UK to just two points in the first 6:38 of the second half, pushing out to a 56-45 lead during that time on the strength of consecutive open triples by Hodge and Green. UK finished just 34.6 percent from the field in the second half while Florida connected on 69.6 percent.
"They got a little more aggressive and started over playing and denying the passing lanes," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "We thought we had a good game plan but couldn't execute it. We couldn't stop them from scoring. They were really on top of their game offensively."
UK wasn't helped by the foul trouble Randolph Morris found himself in for much of the game either. The junior center picked up two fouls in the first half and then tacked on a third just 14 seconds into the second half when teammate Joe Crawford fell down and Morris was forced to hack Al Horford near the rim. Morris, who finished with 13 points but just two rebounds, returned at the 13:47 mark and immediately scored two buckets in the next few minutes before picking up his fourth foul on a hand check 30 feet from the basket with 8:47 left and UK trailing by just nine.
With Morris out of the game Florida's inside trio of Horford, Joakim Noah and Chris Richard continued to dominant the lane and shoved the advantage out to 73-59 before Morris returned at the 4:38 mark. When the dust settled the threesome combined for 35 points, 24 rebounds and four blocks against the Cats.
"Their big men really had something to prove," Perry, who finished with 20 points, said. "They were outplayed (in Lexington) and we held down their numbers but they had a great day. It felt like they had a chip on their shoulders."
The loss sent UK to its second straight 9-7 mark in SEC play, an unheard of lack of success for the school that has won 43 conference championships. By failing to beat Florida the Cats also closed out its first regular season without a victory over a Top 25 team since the 1973-74 season. Now the Cats head to Atlanta as the East's No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament and must win four games in four days to reclaim some conference pride.
"The past is the past," Perry said. "It's one-and-done now. That's the good thing about college basketball, it's a whole new season."
UK is just hoping the fresh start produces fresh results.
Joe Crawford (#32) tries to get a shot off over Florida's Al Horford (#42)
Ramel Bradley (#3) tries to stay with Taurean Green (#11)
Randolph Morris is sandwiched between two Gators