Date story was published: Sunday, January 19, 1986
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Looking up to Kentucky, a Southeastern Conference tradition, became literal reality here yesterday.
The victim was Florida, which succumbed 72-55 in an uphill struggle made graphically futile by Kentucky's dominance inside.
Many times the undersized Gators could only look up and watch while UK rolled up a 44-31 rebounding edge and an even bigger scoring bulge. Kenny Walker and Winston Bennett outscored Florida's starting front line by a whopping 41-9. Walker had 25 points, Bennett 16.
"I thought about him three or four times," said Florida coach Norm Sloan of Dwayne Schintzuis, the Gators' 7-foot recruit.
Schintzuis, a Brandon, Fla., native, and front-row spectator yesterday, had similar thoughts.
"I would have liked to go in there," Schintzuis said. "All Florida lacked was size."
Yesterday's victory improved front-running Kentucky's record to 5-1 in the SEC and 14-2 overall. Three of the league victories have come on the road, and UK can strengthen its hold on first place in two home games this week.
Florida, losing for the third straight time, fell to 8-6 overall and 3-3 in the SEC.
Kentucky opened the game by exploiting Florida's well-known weakness inside.
Three times in the opening minutes, Walker and Bennett sluffed off their defensive assignments to blunt drives by Florida's talented guards.
The defensive help allowed hot-shooting UK to bolt to an early 12-2 lead. It also began a frustration-filled 7-for-26 shooting day by Florida's heralded guard tandem of Andrew Moten and Vernon Maxwell.
When Florida's guards counterattacked with an effective press later in the first half, reducing Kentucky's early lead to a single point, the Wildcats had an answer.
Walker and Bennett. The pair scored Kentucky's last 16 points of the half and 22 of the last 24.
When UK threw an 11-2 run at the frustrated Gators to open the second half, only a Kentucky collapse could save Florida.
And a UK team motivated by real and supposed slights wasn't going to let that happen.
Before arriving at the O'Connell Center, UK players had reminded each other that Florida coach Norm Sloan had said last March the Wildcats didn't belong in the NCAA Tournament.
"That was definitely a factor," said Davender. "That statement came up a couple of times yesterday and today. This is a different year and we proved we're ready for anything."
The Wildcats were further inflamed by a hostile crowd's taunts and projectiles. Florida students threw coins on the court and waved dollar bills at what more than one fan called "the best team money can buy." The reference, of course, was to the admission of 26 former Wildcats last fall that they received improper gifts and money while playing for UK.
First-year UK coach Eddie Sutton applauded his team's mental toughness in reaction to what he called "cute things" from the crowd of 11,914, the second-largest crowd ever to see a basketball game at O'Connell. The largest was at the UK-Florida game Jan. 7, 1984.
After Florida's 6-foot-7 center, Kenny McClary, tipped in the game's first basket, UK hit six of seven shots and ran off 12 straight points.
Twice in the run, Bennett's defensive help prolonged Florida's 3 1/2- minute scoreless streak.
When Maxwell posted Davender low in the first 90 seconds, Bennett shifted and stripped Florida's leading scorer (21.1 ppg) of the ball.
Two minutes later, Moten drove around Roger Harden, but found Bennett challenging his 10-footer.
Walker got into the act on Florida's next trip downcourt. Moten spun away from Harden and rose for a short jumper. Walker batted the ball to near midcourt, where James Blackmon picked it up and drove in for a dunk.
Trailing 12-2, Sloan called time with 15:58 remaining.
"The guy I was guarding (McClary) wasn't supposed to be that good offensively," Bennett said, "so I was concentrating on helping."
What followed, several Wildcats said, was predictable.
Florida's guards got anxious and forced shots. "Anytime you depend on guards, you're going to have some forcing it," Bennett said.
However, Sloan said Moten and Maxwell exceeded the acceptable limit.
"It was a very, very pathetic effort," Sloan said. "It's not that they didn't try. The results were pathetic."
Moten, a past UK tormentor, hit two of 10 shots. Maxwell was 5-of-15. When Joe Lawrence, the Gators' prime outside set shooter, came up 1-for-7, Florida was a long way toward a shooting percentage of 38.3.
"Those two guys (Moten and Maxwell) played a bad game," Sloan said. ''They didn't play smart. They were trying to do too much."
Kentucky's only sustained crisis came when Florida reeled off eight straight points to slice the Cats' lead to 18-14.
UK committed back-to-back turnovers against a press to fuel the comeback.
Florida eventually cut Kentucky's lead to 25-24 when Moten hit a jumper with 5:11 remaining.
But by then, Walker and Bennett were already taking over.
"Kentucky plays democratic basketball until they get in trouble," Sloan said. "Kenny Walker's awfully good. We all know that."
Walker, who had 18 first-half points, posted up for two straight baskets to push UK's lead to 29-24.
After a Florida basket, Walker dunked off Blackmon's lob pass to conclude a run of 10 consecutive UK points.
With 2:59 remaining in the half, Walker took a nasty fall. He rebounded Moten's missed shot and fell onto the point guard's shoulders. Walker's back twisted awkwardly and he fell heavily to the floor.
"I was sweating bullets," trainer Walt McCombs said. But Walker suffered only a bruise on his backside and started the second half.
While Walker was sidelined, Bennett took over. The junior forward posted up twice for five points in the final 2:20. Bennett's three-point play with 1:30 remaining set the 36-28 halftime score.
That lead ballooned to 47-30 less than four minutes into the second half.
UK scored the half's first six points. Walker, who would score only seven second-half points, had a hand in all six.
He was fouled posting up and sank two free throws to start the half. Then he fed Harden for a baseline jumper and posted up for a basket to put UK ahead 42-28.
After Florida got two free throws from Moten, Harden laid in a loose ball and Blackmon drove for a three-point play to push Kentucky's lead to 17 with 16 minutes remaining.
Florida got to within 10 only once. The Gators got that close during an almost nine-minute stretch when neither team did much.
From the 14:37 mark, when Davender hit a leaner in the lane, until Bennett had a layup with 6:51 left, UK got only one basket.
In that stretch of seven minutes and 46 seconds, Kentucky made one of 10 shots - a Bennett rebound basket - and committed three turnovers.
"I didn't think we'd ever get off 51," said Sutton of Bennett's basket. It put UK ahead 51-37 with 12:49 left. The Cats didn't get another point until Harden hit two free throws with 7:43 left.
In roughly the same span, Florida wasn't much better. The Gators had just one basket and two free throws from the 14:37 mark to 6:51, a period covering seven minutes and 46 seconds.
"That was our chance," Sloan said. "We didn't do anything with it."
Maxwell's free throw cut UK's lead to 51-41 with 8:43 left.
After another minute of futility in which both teams missed a shot and committed a turnover, Harden made two free throws.
Davender's free throw with 7:22 remaining pushed the lead to 54-41.
Bennett's layup off a Harden pass made it 56-41 with 6:51 to go.
Two Maxwell turnovers sandwiched the Bennett layup.
On the first, Davender tipped a pass that hit off Maxwell out of bounds.
After Bennett's basket, Walker drew a charge on Maxwell and jumped up to slap palms with Davender.
"We probably took more charges than we have all year," Sutton said.