Date story published: Sunday, February 12, 1989
Repeating a familiar pattern, Kentucky let a comfortable first-half margin dissolve into a down-the-stretch test of wills yesterday.
This time Florida overcame the catchable Cats, 59-53, much the same as Northwestern State, Bowling Green and Louisiana State did earlier this season at Rupp Arena.
Taken with a December beating by Indiana, yesterday's come-from-ahead performance contributed to two dubious entries in the record books:
Most losses at Rupp in a season, five.
Most losses, anywhere, in a season, 13, equaling a mark set four times in UK's storied basketball history.
Kentucky, 11-13 overall and down and probably out at 6-6 in the Southeastern Conference, also faces the very real possibility of a losing record. With seven games left, including road trips to LSU (Wednesday) and Syracuse, the Cats must win five times to assure a .500 finish.
"We're not even thinking of that," UK coach Eddie Sutton said after the team's third straight SEC loss. "We're taking them one at a time with the idea of playing the best we can. As long as we play hard, and don't win, I can accept that."
Florida, meanwhile, won its sixth straight SEC game, a streak matched only four times in school history. Florida can win an unprecedented seventh straight by beating last-place Auburn at home Wednesday.
The Gators improved to 14-10 overall and 8-4 in the league, the latter one game behind league-leading LSU.
UK, which played hard if not effectively, led by as much as 12 in an upbeat first half. The Cats hit the floor repeatedly for loose balls and held their own on the boards (down only 24-23) against Florida's man-sized front line.
"The effort was great," Sutton said. "Both teams competed very hard. That's why in a game where we put it on the line, it's hard for me to be critical. We made a lot of mistakes, but it certainly wasn't for lack of effort." The Cats got a bonus when Florida made only nine of 36 first-half shots. Forward Livingston Chatman's one-for-eight shooting included two air balls and a blown layup.
Center Dwayne Schintzius, a 7-foot-2 lightning rod for jeers, was 3-of-9 from the field with only one rebound. At one stage late in the half, Schintzius missed four straight shots, each deepening the pout on his face and the volume of barbs from the UK student sections.
At the 3:19 mark, Florida coach Norm Sloan benched Schintzius, who went to the sideline serenaded by a chorus of "Baby-Baby-Baby" chants.
With UK already leading 29-20, Schintzius' departure seemed to signal the end.
"It wasn't scary," Schintzius said. "We were down at Vanderbilt (where the Gators were saved by a the tennis-ball incident). We've been down so many times I can't tell you. We're playing catch-up all the time. We're a real confident team right now. We don't think any team can beat us."
The Gators got a lift at the end of the half. Seconds after Reggie Hanson's steal and driving dunk put UK ahead 35-26 with six seconds left, Florida rushed the ball to a wide-open Dwayne Davis underneath. Davis missed the layup, but two-handed the rebound in at the buzzer.
"We could have been behind 16 or 17 points the way we were shooting the basketball," Sloan said. "Only down seven, that was the statement we made the most at halftime. We told the kids that if we stop them and we go get one (basket), then string together some good solid basketball, we have a shot at this game."
Sutton felt good at halftime, too.
"I thought we were in pretty good position to win the game," he said. "We had a seven-point halftime lead at Gainesville (actually 34-26). If the ball goes in the hole, you probably win."
But Kentucky made only 28.6 percent of its second-half shots (eight of 28). Derrick Miller, who lit up Florida for 27 in Gainesville, missed seven of 10 second-half shots and finished with 12 points. LeRon Ellis, who sat out almost seven minutes of the second half in foul trouble, hit only one of four shots and had six points.
"We missed shots that, day in and day out, they'll hit a high percentage," Sutton said.
Foul trouble also hurt UK. Chris Mills and Ellis fouled out. And, rarity of rarities at Rupp, the opposition shot many more free throws (28) than Kentucky (eight).
Sutton noticed that statistic but said, "maybe we didn't get the ball deep enough where we could get fouled."
Sloan got his wish for a quick second-half start. Facing a collapsing defense, Ellis' pass back outside was tipped to Renaldo Garcia who ran to a layup.
UK did not get a basket until Chris Mills' fast-break slam at the 16:46 mark. But that dunk, part of Mills' game-high 17-point total, extended the lead to only 38-34.
Florida took its first lead since 6-4 on a Brian Hogan three-pointer at the 13:55 mark. That shot put the Gators ahead 42-40.
With the score tied at 44 entering the final 10 minutes, each team went cold.
UK got only one basket, and missed nine shots, over the next seven minutes. Davis, who finished with 15 rebounds, limited the Cats to one shot per possession on several occasions.
Florida dented the scoreboard but once on a Schintzius dunk for more than five minutes.
"It's a strange sensation, but at certain points of a game you find yourself pulling for the team rather than coaching them," Sloan said. "We have a bunch of guys who really care, and really want to win and be successful in this league. I listen to the things they say in the dressing room and particularly on the bench and I find myself pulling hard for them."
What the Gators were saying, Sloan said, was "How important this was. How we'd come so far; worked so hard. How we couldn't afford to lose this game. That kind of talk gets to me."
Asked if other Florida teams had made similar comments, Sloan said: "No, no. That's why I'm so impressed with it now."
While UK continued misfiring, Schintzius hit a 10-footer and Clifford Lett made a free-throw that put Florida ahead 51-46 with 3:46 left.
UK closed to within 53-50 at the 1:50 mark and had a chance to get closer when Schintzius missed a post-up flip.
But Mills drove recklessly down the baseline and was called for charging.
After two Florida free throws made it 55-50, Sean Sutton took an ill- advised drive down the lane that resulted in a no-chance awkward throw across his body that Schintzius tipped away.
"That was one of the worst plays I've ever made in basketball," Sean said. "I'd give anything to get it back."
His father conceded the Cats lost their cool in the final minutes.
"I couldn't help but feel -- well, I don't want to say sympathy -- feel badly for Kentucky," Sloan said. "I know they're struggling and I know how depressing it must be to need a game as badly as they needed it."