Kentucky saves itself with upset of No. 11 Florida

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 9, 2013 

To mix Calipari-inspired metaphors, a drowning man lifted the 3,000-pound car off his broken body in Rupp Arena on Saturday.

Kentucky's dimming NCAA Tournament hopes seemed down to a pinhole of light. UK stared at a seven-point deficit. Less than six minutes remained. The Cats had made only two of their most recent 15 shots.

Surely No. 11 Florida, the Southeastern Conference's regular-season champion, needed only to decide its margin of victory.

Then Kentucky rallied Lazarus-like to a 61-57 victory. The Cats kept hope alive by breathing life into Coach John Calipari's do-or-die analogies from the day before. His team needed to play with the miracle-seeking zeal of a drowning man or a person crushed by a car, he said.

"Yeah, they swam like heck," Calipari said. " ... When you're going to drown, you want to die, don't swim. If you want to live, the life raft is over there. You've got to swim to it."

Losing 57-50 to senior-laden Florida going into the final minutes felt like that. Only worse.

"As a matter of fact, it's kind of breezing away from you," Calipari said of UK's metaphorical life raft. "So you're going to have to swim real hard. And they did."

Archie Goodwin led the way. With UK scoring only two baskets in the previous nine minutes, he flashed to the post for a score over Mike Rosario. That brought the Cats within 57-53 with 5:07 left.

Then Rosario telegraphed a pass that Goodwin anticipated. The UK freshman moved easily into the path of the pass and sped to a dunk.

When a reporter suggested a season of experience helped Goodwin make the steal, he disagreed. "I would have made that play a month ago, because he just threw a stupid pass," he said.

Suddenly, Florida found itself out of the familiar position of front-runner, where opponent after opponent had been crushed this season. Instead, the Gators needed to execute in a possession-by-possession test of will and nerve.

Florida, which fell to 0-5 in games decided by six points or less, stumbled again. The Gators (24-6 overall and 14-4 in the SEC) did not score after taking a 57-50 lead with 7:36 left. In that span, UF missed 11 shots and committed four turnovers.

"We let it slip away again," said Erik Murphy, who led Florida with 17 points. "We've got to fix that."

For what it's worth, a balanced attack (five leading scoring averages separated by 3.5 points) translated into no take-charge leader this day. Four different players shot in the final three minutes-plus. A fifth, Murphy, charged into Willie Cauley-Stein.

Florida looked for baskets from "no one in particular," Murphy said. "We just tried to run our offense and get easy shots. We got a couple easy ones. They didn't fall."

With UK clinging to a 58-57 lead, Florida center Patric Young missed a layup. He also missed his signature jump-hook from the low post down the stretch. Guard Scottie Wilbekin twice missed shots from the lane.

Kenny Boynton, the leading career scorer among active SEC players, missed a makeable jumper from the right side that would have tied it in the final 20 seconds.

"At some point, someone has to step up and make a shot," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said. "... I can't put the ball in the basket for them. I can't."

Kentucky took the initiative to begin each half. The Cats led 11-2 before the first television timeout, then twice eased ahead by eight early in the second half.

Then Florida went on a 19-5 run to lead 57-50.

"We could have easily packed it in," said Julius Mays, who made two clinching free throws with 9.4 seconds left. "We could say, 'Oh, they had us' or 'We couldn't do it.'

"But we were getting stops. They couldn't score either."

Cauley-Stein, who picked up his fourth foul with 13:42 left, made a free throw with 3:03 left to put Kentucky ahead 58-57.

Free throws by Goodwin (with 25.3 seconds left) and Mays sealed it.

UK, which gained its second victory over a team with a top-50 Ratings Percentage Index, improved to 21-10 overall and 12-6 in the SEC. The latter clinched a double-bye in this week's league tournament.

"I couldn't call it improvement," Mays said of the come-from-behind victory that followed two double-digit road losses. "It's something we could have done all year. It takes that buy-in. We knew we had to have this game.

"I hope we play every game from here on out like we have to have the game. Because we really do."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227 Twitter: @JerryTipton Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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