Date story published: Sunday, January 3, 1999
Kentucky center Mike Bradley took a pass from Scott Padgett and rose for a left-handed dunk. Whoops, the ball slipped from his grasp and floated a good five feet above the basket. Gravity, not Bradley, guided it down through the hoop.
"A late Christmas present," Bradley said. "I had no control of it. When it looked like it was going in, I said, 'Thank God.'"
A few minutes later, UK guard Ryan Hogan rose for a three-pointer. Whoops, Florida's Eddie Shannon suddenly appeared in position to block the shot. Hogan double-clutched, then flicked in a 20-footer.
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"I didn't want to get my shot blocked, especially by a 5-11 guy," Hogan said. "It was a little of both, luck and skill. I don't go out and practice that shot."
Kentucky had luck and skill on its side against Florida yesterday. Although the luck stood out like a winning lottery ticket, cold calculating skill deserved the credit for UK's take-that 93-58 victory.
Spurred by a challenge from Florida's much-ballyhooed young guns, Kentucky dominated this Southeastern Conference opener.
Offensively, the Cats made a season-high 11 three-pointers and shot a season-high 56.1 percent.
Defensively, UK limited a high-powered Florida offense to a season-low 58 points. That was 18 fewer points than the previous low and not in the same ZIP code as the Gators' third-best-in-the-nation average of 91.9 points a game.
"All those guys had very good high school careers," Padgett said of Florida's freshmen. "They're all going to be good players. But we still feel like we're Kentucky. We're at home. We have to defend our castle."
Asked which end of the floor pleased him most, UK Coach Tubby Smith lauded his team's man-to-man defense.
"That was critical that we guard them on the perimeter and force them to take tough shots and challenge every shot," Smith said. "I felt we did a very good job."
Florida, which led the SEC in shooting (50.7 percent), made only 38.2 percent of its shots.
Smith noted that UK's unusually good shooting fueled the defense. By halftime, UK had eight three-point baskets - as many as or more than it had made in all but two previous games this season .
"Usually when you make shots, it creates a lot of opportunities and energizes a team to play better defense as well," Smith said.
Kentucky, which improved its record to 12-3, never trailed. Florida (9-2) trailed by at least 24 points the last 23 minutes. The Gators suffered the school's most lopsided loss since a 102-48 defeat in Rupp Arena on Jan. 21, 1981.
"Today, we went against the best team in the country," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said. "They may be better than Duke (and) I know Duke beat them."
In a similar hot-shooting performance, Duke beat Florida 116-86 on Dec. 9.
Kentucky, which came into the game ranked last among SEC teams in three-point shooting (27.5 percent), started an inside-oriented lineup. Centers Jamaal Magloire and Bradley constituted a Twin Towers with Padgett moving to small forward and Heshimu Evans to shooting guard.
"I just felt that we needed to get our top five players on the floor," Smith said.
It seemed like the advice that drivers learn about skidding on ice: Turn in the direction of the skid. Smith, who has lamented opponents' collapsing defenses inside, seemed to be inviting Florida to sag its defenders even closer to the basket.
"There's two theories there," the UK coach said. "Since we had not been penetrating well and getting to the basket, maybe (we should) make people guard us more at the basket. That might open up (perimeter) shots for us."
Evans, who had made only one three-pointer in the last four games, swished a trey seven seconds into the game and added a second five minutes later.
Padgett, who had three three-pointers in the same period, equaled a career-high of four.
"What we did today was we moved the ball extremely well and got the ball to the open man," Padgett said. "It's amazing how much easier shots are when they're open compared to when they're contested."
Although Hogan hit the double-clutched three-pointer and point guard Wayne Turner made only his second trey of the season (snapping an 0-for-14 drought from behind the line), Smith credited more than good-shooting-is-contagious for UK's sudden dead-eye marksmanship.
"We've been really working hard at shooting," Smith said. "We had a chance to maybe correct some shooting woes and get up more shots in practice. That helped them get confidence in their shooting. It was more than just momentum."