Date story published: Wednesday, February 5, 2003
Let college basketball history show: When Florida reigned, Kentucky poured.
The Cats dropped a cloud-burst of defense, desire and overwhelming momentum on the Gators last night. The result: a 70-55 UK romp over a Southeastern Conference rival installed as the nation's No. 1 team only the day before.
The highly-anticipated game justified expectations of a competition between Kentucky's point-repellent defense and Florida's point-happy offense.
It was no contest.
Kentucky won the game by "Vandy-izing" Florida. Or "Auburn-ing" the Gators, if you prefer. Or putting the "Ala-whammy" on a program that had barely 24 hours to enjoy its first No. 1 ranking.
For the fifth time in the most recent 10 halves, Kentucky limited an opponent to six or fewer baskets in the opening 20 minutes. That it happened to Florida stunned and delighted the largest -- and perhaps loudest -- Rupp Arena crowd ever (24,459).
"That's just unreal," forward Chuck Hayes said of Florida's six first-half baskets.
The surprise hit home for UK's leading scorer, Keith Bogans (15 points), when Brett Nelson whispered a damning comment in his ear.
"Man, my team is playing scared," Bogans recalled Nelson saying.
"I was surprised to hear him say that," Bogans said. "I mean, he was right. They weren't attacking like they usually attack."
Kentucky (17-3, 7-0 SEC) squelched the Gators not with the suffocating man-to-man defense that brought Vanderbilt (four baskets in the second half), Auburn (six baskets in the first) and Alabama (five baskets in each half) as close to a shutout as basketball gets.
UK switched to a matchup zone with 13:30 left and mighty Florida scored one basket the rest of the half -- a heavily-contested layup by freshman Adrian Moss with 6:10 left.
Florida made one of its final 17 shots and committed six turnovers against the Kentucky zone. The half ended with the Gators shooting 6-for-30 and UK leading 45-22.
"For us to come out and play the way we did and really handle Florida in the fashion we did, as a coach you don't expect that," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "This was (pause) I hope it wasn't a fluke, put it that way."
Kentucky led 15-14 when it switched to the zone. After Florida missed its first four shots, Coach Billy Donovan called a timeout with 11:50 left to regroup. Whatever he said didn't work. Florida missed its next seven shots before Moss scored.
By then, a tidal wave of momentum propelled Kentucky into hyper-drive and rattled Florida like a candy machine in the vicinity of Arizona's Wildcats.
Donovan cited, if not saluted Kentucky's defense. "Their pressure was not as good as Kansas' and some other teams," he said.
The Florida coach derided his team's near panic en route to its lowest point total, field-goal total (17) and shooting percentage (34.0) of the season.
"I thought the guys hung their heads after the shots were not falling," Donovan said. "Which transferred to us not defending. The guys were trying to do way too much one-on-one play."
Worse for Florida, 18-3 overall and 7-1 in the SEC, its senior leaders -- Brett Nelson, Matt Bonner and Justin Hamilton -- shot a combined five of 21.
"I didn't think our freshmen were rattled," Donovan said. "I thought our seniors were rattled."
Kentucky took that ride to a 23-4 run in the final 7:30. The longer the run extended, the more the Cats piled on the highlight material.
Hayes hit his first three-pointer in exactly a month (Jan. 4 against Ohio).
After another Florida timeout with 4:19 left, Fitch swished a three-pointer behind a Hayes screen.
In the final 80 seconds, Roberson made a desperate fullcourt inbounds pass and Nelson made the illogical save that set up Cliff Hawkins' layup.
Bogans stole the pass and raced to a fast-break dunk.
Bogans threw a lob that Hayes dunked.
Then Daniels hit a 15-footer with two seconds left to give UK its 45-22 halftime lead.
The second half brought more of the same.
Kentucky continued to contest most Florida shots fiercely. The Gators missed their first three shots after intermission to extend the cold shooting to one of 20.
Florida did not score on two consecutive possessions until Bonner and Roberson hit shots, the second coming with 13:57 left.
Florida, which averaged 26.3 baskets in its previous SEC games, did not score its 10th basket against UK until the 10:04 mark. Roberson turned and twisted several times to get barely enough room to hit a leaner over Hawkins. It shaved two points of UK's largest lead, 60-31.
"Coach was really mad that we lost to a team that's not better than us," Roberson said.
That post-game statement capped the surprising night.
Meanwhile, for the third time in six games, Smith pondered whether he had just seen Kentucky at its defensive peak.
"It was outstanding," the UK coach said. "I hope the best is yet to come."