- Tuesday, February 10 2009 -
Florida - 65 (Head Coach: Billy Donovan) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 68 (Head Coach: Billy Gillispie) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Florida 30, Kentucky 30
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Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats edge Florida, 68-65, in a thriller
If there was any doubt as to whether Kentucky had any fight left in it after being rocked with a three-game losing streak it's gone now.
The Cats survived a thrilling finish to knock off SEC East-leading Florida 68-65 in front of 24,355 frenetic Rupp Arena fans. UK erased a six-point deficit over the final 3:05, sealing the victory when Jodie Meeks came to life and buried a fall away three-pointer as the shot clock expired and 4.7 seconds showed on the final game clock.
Of course, that wouldn't be the end.
The Cats would need to dodge one last bullet when Kevin Galloway fouled Florida star Nick Calathes - who had 33 points - on a three-pointer with 0.6 seconds left. With Rupp at full throttle and a steamed Billy Gillispie woofing in the officials' ear Calathes missed the first two free throw attempts and then was forced to miss the final on purpose in a desperate attempt to get one final shot.
"I knew he got fouled but I was hoping they wouldn't call it because it looked like (Galloway) tipped it," Meeks said. "I was kind of in disbelief because he's such a great free throw shooter."
The star guard is generating a legion of believers all over the country after his latest set of heroics. Despite struggling from the field through the first 36 minutes of the game (he was 4-of-15 to that point) Meeks made three jumpers and two free throws in scoring 10 of the Cats' final 12 points. Nearly a month to the day after pouring in a school-record 54 points in front of an ESPN audience at Tennessee Meeks was it again.
"I came off a handoff and got a good look and then once I hit that one I went to the free throw line and got a mid-range shot," Meeks said. "It kind of got me in a rhythm in the last five minutes and from there I had all the confidence in the world I was going to hit the last shot.
"It's great. It can't get any better than that - 24,000 people, the University of Kentucky, on ESPN. It's just a great feeling and hopefully it makes SportsCenter."
There shouldn't be any concern there.
"Jodie came down and did his thing," guard Michael Porter said. "I was looking right at the basket, not looking at the ball in the air, and just watched it go in. He does it all the time so we expect him to make every shot he shoots. (Florida) figured Jodie was going to get it but when you're in a zone like that it doesn't matter."
The win staved off what may have been a critical blow to UK's postseason chances, especially with star forward Patrick Patterson going down with a sprained right ankle with 9:06 remaining in the game. Patterson crumpled to a heap on the floor as medical personnel tended to him and then remained at the end of the bench the rest of the way before teammates supported his weight as he left the floor.
In dire need of someone other than their dynamic duo to offer some kind of threat the Cats saw unlikely heroes Galloway (6 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists), Josh Harrellson (11 points) and Darius Miller (two free throws when trailing by three with 1:38 left). It was exactly what the doctor ordered.
"I told them (before the game), 'I want you to show the fight you have,'" Gillispie said. "That's as tough as we've played."
The game was testy throughout, with Florida's Walter Hodge getting ejected early in the second half after stepping on Perry Stevenson's arm while he was on the floor after fouling Chandler Parsons on a three-pointer. Alerted to the misdeed by Porter, the game officials reviewed the play on a courtside monitor and ejected Hodge for a flagrant foul. Officials told TV and radio crews on press row that Hodge clearly intended to step on Stevenson, hence the ejection.
Flagrant fouls, foot stomps, game-winners and unlikely heroes aside the Cats proved at least one thing - their season isn't over.
"Coach has been telling us the cream rises to the top and everyone stepped up and played big those last few minutes," Porter said. "We could have (laid down). We're still going to fight and not going to give up that easy. We could have given up but we wanted it."
Nick Calathes (#33) scored a career-high 33 points to lead the Gators, is shown here shooting against Ramon Harris
Darius Miller (#1) passes out a loose ball before Calathes and Walter Hodge can converge on him
Jodie Meeks (#23) shoots the game winner over Calathes