Date story was published: Sunday, February 15, 1987
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- You can call Florida's 74-56 victory yesterday over Kentucky historic. It matched the Wildcats' worst defeat to a Florida team (96-78 here on Jan. 13, 1968).
You can say it signaled at least a one-game moratorium on Kentucky comebacks. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. A three-stitch gash on Rex Chapman's head hindered a second-half charge.
You could also say it ended UK's flickering hopes of winning the Southeastern Conference regular-season championship. "It's been crazy in the league, but something irregular will have to happen for us to get back in it," center Rob Lock conceded.
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Just don't tell Andrew Moten it was a surprise.
"Beating Kentucky was an upset my freshman year," the Florida point guard said of UK's 69-57 loss to the Gators in 1984 in Gainesville. "There's been a big change at Florida. It's time for a big change in the SEC. With the people we've got, we can make it happen."
Florida, which is seeking its first SEC basketball championship, improved to a school-record 12-3 in the league. Only Alabama, at 12-2 after beating LSU yesterday, is better.
Yesterday's game also assured only the second 20-victory season in school history and all but clinched, in the minds of many here, a first NCAA Tournament bid.
"We did more for our program with today's game than ever before since I've been at Florida," Gator coach Norm Sloan said. "I just can't say enough about what a great day it was."
For UK, 15-7 overall and 8-6 in the SEC, it was a day when believing wasn't enough. This comeback fell short. Instead the Wildcats became Florida's 20th victim in the last 21 games here.
Kentucky never led, thanks in part to Florida scoring the first eight points and the Gators' 41-27 domination on the boards. But the Wildcats remained within range.
In its recent perverse way, UK had the Gators just where it wanted them: 12 ahead with six minutes left.
Then Chapman was felled by a head-on collision with Florida's Vernon Maxwell.
Maxwell was fast-breaking toward the waiting Chapman when he lost control of the ball. As Maxwell reached down for the ball, Chapman leaned forward to take a charge.
Maxwell's forehead banged into the top of Chapman's head.
"I wasn't worried about a charging call," Maxwell said. "I was worried about my head. When I fell I saw blood and thought, 'Oh, God.' "
Maxwell needed a bandage over his right eyebrow. After lying almost motionless for several minutes, Chapman was helped to the locker room, where he needed three stitches before he could return.
As both players crumpled to the court, Moten picked up the loose ball and laid it in for two of his 20 points. That freebie gave Florida a 58-46 lead with 6:02 left.
Despite Chapman's absence for almost five minutes, UK tried mightily to duplicate the miraculous comebacks against Tennessee and Alabama.
Eight straight points from Ed Davender -- whose 22 yesterday moved his career total to 1,016 -- got the Wildcats to within seven with 2:44 left.
A further reduction seemed possible when Davender separated Moten from his dribble for an instant.
"I thought he had it," Moten said. "I was surprised he didn't get it."
Instead, Moten went to his knees to corral the ball near midcourt. After springing to his feet, Florida's point guard was off to a driving shot that increased the lead to 65-56.
UK's comeback died a moment later when Davender and James Blackmon missed jumpers at one end. The Cats didn't score again after cutting Florida's lead to 63-56. Three misses at the end capped an afternoon of 38.2 percent shooting. Only the freakish LSU game (12 of 48) has been worse this season.
Then Florida's 7-foot-2 center Dwayne Schintzius two-handed a slam off a pass from Moten. That dunk made up for a one-hand attempt that clanged off the rim in the first half and it pushed Florida ahead 67-56 with 1:32 left.
When Florida made its free throws -- five of five in the last 90 seconds -- even Chapman's return with 1:21 left couldn't avert defeat.
Chris Capers almost single-handedly put Kentucky into yet another comeback mode.
Capers, a 6-6 senior forward, scored the final six points of a 10-0 run that pushed Florida ahead 49-38 with nine minutes left.
Capers began his string by posting up and scoring over Cedric Jenkins. Then on a post-up on Richard Madison, he had to tip a wayward feed toward the basket and run to catch it before laying it in.
The third basket was a tip-in in which Capers ended up sprawled on the floor.
"It wasn't a thing of my teammates looking for me," Capers said. "They just saw I was hot and kept coming at me."
Capers was so hot he surprised even himself with being able to tip a pass to himself in the lane.
"When it went in that's when I really felt I was back to my old self -- when I do crazy stuff like that and then put it in the basket," he said.
Several UK players said poor off-the-ball defense allowed Capers to get free.
"I was defending him like we always play -- out on the high side," Richard Madison said. "When the pass to him was in the air, I thought I had weakside help. But no one was there."
Florida's defense had few holes. The Gators harassed UK on the perimeter, and the Cats were just 4-of-14 on three-pointers.
Florida also got a break when Madison picked up three quick fouls. UK's most reliable inside threat departed with three fouls at the 13:23 mark of the first half and played just 24 minutes.
"I thought Florida's defense was solid and they made us work for all we got," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "They are certainly the best-shooting team in the conference (50.9 percent yesterday) and they may have the deepest bench."
Those words were sweet to Florida ears. The Gators were offended earlier this month by Sutton's candid appraisal of the SEC race. The UK coach merely said he thought Alabama would hang on and win the title. But the Gators heard that Sutton thought they couldn't.
Never mind that Florida must make up ground on the road at Vanderbilt, at Tennessee and at Alabama. Yesterday's game was Florida's last at home this season against an SEC team.
"Eddie Sutton didn't give us the respect he should," Moten said. "We wanted to take it to them and really 'whup' them."