- Sunday, March 5 2006 -
Florida - 79 (Head Coach: Billy Donovan) - [Ranked 17th by AP and 14th by ESPN/USA Today]
Kentucky - 64 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Florida 34, Kentucky 33
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Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Senior Day downer: Gators drub Wildcats
Florida caught the Cat(s) by the tail again, this time ruining Kentucky's all-Commonwealth Senior Day send off with a 79-64 shellacking of the Cats in Rupp Arena.
The game followed a nearly identical script to the teams' first meeting a month ago in Gainesville, as Florida turned a close halftime game into a runaway after the break. The 15-point margin of defeat for UK marked the third-straight time in four consecutive losses to Florida the Cats have lost by at least 15 points.
The loss dropped UK to 19-11 overall and 9-7 in Southeastern Conference play this season. It also means the Cats will play Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament's first round on Thursday in Nashville, the first time UK has had to play on the opening day of the tournament since the league split into divisional play.
"You hate for our seniors to go out like this," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "To not play well, not shoot well. What I told them (in the locker room) is that I need them to give me a sign that they are going to play, to be hungry and not to give up dunks inside."
It was a carbon copy performance of the Cats' 90-75 loss on Feb. 4 at Florida. Playing tough, smart basketball for a half, UK survived two early fouls on sophomore center Randolph Morris and held its own with a small lineup that stood toe to toe with Florida's long, athletic front line. Heading into the break down just 34-33 with the return of Morris' services in the second half, the Cats had to feel good about themselves.
"We started sluggish but we picked it up in the first half," senior guard Brandon Stockton said. "(The small lineup) worked early in the first half and we made a real run, but they adjusted in the second half and we didn't knock down shots."
It was eerily similar to the first showdown when UK actually held a two-point halftime edge but was blown off the court by a deluge of Florida dunks, fast breaks and second chance points. The same issues cropped up this time around, as Florida's inside trio of Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Chris Richard dominated the paint with their length and agility.
With Morris struggling in the foul department again, UK simply couldn't handle the Gators near the rim. Noah, who had 26 points and eight rebounds in the first meeting, followed that up with 15 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. Horford added 13 points and nine rebounds, while Richard chipped in eight points and six rebounds off the bench.
"Their athleticism in Noah, Horford and Richard (hurt us)," Smith said. "They've got so much size and athleticism. Their big guys know what their jobs are and they understand that. When you're guarded by a 6-foot-4 guy it's pretty easy (to rebound). That's my fault."
Never was the gap in frontcourt personnel more evident than coming out of the locker room in the second half. Florida scored on seven of its first eight possessions Ð three on second chance efforts Ð while UK couldn't find the bottom of the net on four of its first five chances. Throw in the fact the Gators hauled in 12 of the first 13 rebounds after the break and its not hard to see how the one-point deficit the Cats faced quickly turned into a 10-point margin before the first television timeout.
"In the second half we were able to get some stops," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We got out on the break and the shots we weren't able to make, we got offensive rebounds."
Florida's 11-2 surge to start the second half was aided by UK's inexplicable lack of energy and sense of urgency. As the Gators pushed the lead to as many as 21 late in the game it looked as if the Cats had folded up the tent and started thinking about their upcoming trip to Nashville.
"To start the second half they came out on a run and we had no real answer," Smith lamented. "A lot of that had to do with Florida doing a good job defending us a certain way and taking things away. They back off certain people and do a good job knowing who to pressure and who not to."
While Florida was scorching the nets to the tune of 51.7 percent shooting, UK struggled mightily all day to make jump shots. The Cats were held to just 37.9 percent shooting, their lowest accuracy since hitting just 35 percent against Vanderbilt on Jan. 10. Take away Morris Ð who had 14 points Ð and sophomore guard Joe Crawford (21 points) and the Cats made just 11-of-39 shots.
"We had open looks that maybe if we got to drop we would have gotten some momentum," Smith said. "When Patrick (Sparks) gets those looks, the need to go down.
"It's tough when you come home and you think you are playing well and have momentum that you are trying to build on (and you lose)," Smith said. "You could see the tightness in our guys."
The players took a more philosophical approach.
"We had a lot of open shots that just didn't go," senior guard Ravi Moss said. "Sometimes it goes like that. Today was one of those days."
UK has had a lot of those against Florida recently.
Senior Brandon Stockton shoots over Taurean Green
Joe Crawford drives into UF's Chris Richard