- Tuesday, February 8 2005 -
Florida - 66 (Head Coach: Billy Donovan) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 69 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 5th by AP and 5th by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Florida 36, Kentucky 29
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Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats rally for crucial victory over rival Florida
It took the Kentucky basketball team a half to figure out that this wasn't the same Florida team it had dominated in recent years, but the Cats recovered from a nine-point second half deficit to outlast the Gators 69-66 in a raucous Rupp Arena.
"This was a different Florida team from last year," UK forward Chuck Hayes said. "Last year they would try to play hard for the first five minutes and then back down. We had to respond. We didn't expect (their toughness). Once we saw it, we had to step up."
The Cats (18-2, 9-0 SEC) did that in the second half behind increased intensity and the play of freshman point guard Rajon Rondo. After giving up 15 points in the first half to Florida sharpshooter Anthony Roberson, Rondo clamped down in the second half on the defensive end and got to the free throw line on the offensive end, where he hit 8-of-10 despite being a 50 percent free throw shooter.
The match up was punctuated when Roberson and Rondo got into a jawing match near the Florida bench with just under 10 minutes to go. Ahead just 53-52 at the time, UK extended its lead to 64-54 after the altercation as Rondo scored six of the Cats' next eight points.
"That's Rondo being Rondo," Hayes said. "He showed he was up to the challenge."
Surprisingly, so did Florida. The Gators jumped all over UK in the first half, getting easy buckets in the paint and using a new defensive prowess to frustrate the Cats into shooting just 33.3 percent. Each time UK tried to make a mini-run to get back into the game, Roberson stuck a three-pointer or the Gators made a key defensive stop. While UK was stacking bricks, Florida was hitting 54 percent from the field and extending its lead to as many as 11 points before settling for a 36-29 edge at the break.
"We played well in the first half, but we didn't have quite the same intensity in the second half," Roberson said. "It's tough because we were right there. Kentucky played hard, but we were in it until the end. We're definitely as good as Kentucky."
True to form, UK erased the choppy first half by coming out of the gate on fire in the second half. A 13-2 run early in the half gave the Cats a 47-45 lead with 13 minutes left, but Florida answered and took a 52-50 edge on a Lee Humphrey three-pointer at the 10-minute mark.
After UK's Kelenna Azubuike nailed a three to give the Cats the lead back, Rondo and Roberson got into their stare down. Rondo responded by jumping the passing lane for a steal and a breakaway dunk on the ensuing possession, then scored on two driving lay-ups sandwiched around a Sheray Thomas rebound dunk. Azubuike then capped the 14-2 run with a three-point play to put UK on top 64-54 with 3:37 left.
Florida cut the lead to 66-62 on two Roberson three-pointers, but the Cats hit 6-of-8 free throws down the stretch to go along with 58 percent shooting from the field in the half to hold off the Gators.
"We are competitors," junior guard Ravi Moss said. "We like when people challenge us. Roberson shot us a look at the bench in the first half and that woke us up. They weren't going to back down, so we had to take the game from them."
UK took the game, but it also found out this isn't the same Florida.
Ravi Moss saves the ball, leading to a Kelenna Azubuike dunk
Randolph Morris works in the paint