Date story published: Sunday, February 11, 2007
Kentucky had a shot to beat the No. 1 team in the nation last night. Yet in another sense, UK did not have a shot to beat Florida.
Even with Florida not playing at peak efficiency, one of the worst shooting games in memory doomed Kentucky to a 64-61 defeat.
"That's probably the story of the game," said center Randolph Morris, who delivered 18 points despite little help from the perimeter. "If we had hit a couple shots, the outcome could have been different."
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UK made only three of 22 three-point shots (13.6 percent). The Cats also struggled from the foul line (12-for-21). Even Ramel Bradley, an 85.5-percent free thrower coming in, made three of eight. In the final 65 seconds, he missed the front end of a one-and-one and another free throw with 11.8 seconds left that prevented UK from getting within two points of the Gators.
Asked to explain the first time he's missed more than two free throws in a game this season, Bradley said, "Only God knows."
Despite all the misses, UK had a chance to send the game into overtime thanks to a Florida turnover on a risky length-of-the-court inbounds pass.
With Taurean Green standing chest to chest against Bradley, the UK guard got off a three that headed straight to the basket, but bounced off the front of the rim at the buzzer.
"I thought it was going to go down," Bradley said. "But it came up a little short. It was a tough shot to get up. He kind of corraled me. I got it up as best I could."
Florida, 23-2 overall and 10-0 in the Southeastern Conference, never trailed. But the Gators needed clutch play to beat Kentucky and got it. Veterans Corey Brewer, Green and Al Horford combined for 21 straight points down the stretch.
"Winning ugly never felt so good," said Horford of Florida's fifth straight victory against UK. That enabled Florida to join Tennessee as the only Southeastern Conference programs to beat Kentucky five straight times. The Vols did it in 1916-17 and 1975-77.
Kentucky trailed 63-54 with 26.6 seconds left.
Then Bradley hit a three-pointer with 20.8 seconds to go. After a UK timeout, Bradley stole Horford's inbounds and swished another three, this time from the left corner, to bring the Cats within three, 63-60. Eighteen seconds remained. Bradley added a free throw with 11.8 seconds left. Then Brewer's free throw seemingly sealed it.
UK fell to 18-6 overall and 7-3 in the SEC. The latter left the Cats three games behind Florida with six games left in the conference schedule.
Morris led Kentucky's second-half charge. He scored 14 of his 18 points after halftime.
Brewer led Florida with 16 points. Green added 13, and reserve Chris Richard had 11.
A Rupp Arena record crowd of 24,465 got some satisfaction in Florida center Joakim Noah's sub-par game. Noah had six points before fouling out.
But UK's poor shooting spoiled the party.
"If you're making shots, you have a lot more energy," UK Coach Tubby Smith said. "It's as simple as that. Basketball is about putting the ball in the basket. A lot of things are predicated on that."
Kentucky never led and trailed by as much as 16 in the first half. So the 36-27 halftime deficit represented a -- cliche alert -- moral victory of sorts for the Cats.
UK put itself in an immediate hole by missing six of its first seven shots. Bradley seemed a bit too eager to launch as the offense too often looked like a one-on-one contest -- three first-half assists.
But, plainly put, Florida repeatedly showed its dominance and imposed its will on UK through the first 11 minutes.
For instance, the Gators ran their high pick-and-roll play (the play that kept freeing Green for scores or passes last season) in the first 90 seconds. Green hit a three, then fed Noah for a layup in this reminder of Florida dominance past.
As for the present, Noah posted up Bobby Perry and scored easily. Reserve Chris Richard, the largely unsung third quality big man the Gators can throw at the opposition, scored 11 of Florida's first 22 points. That equaled his season high.
Even when it appeared a possession might go UK's way, it didn't. With the crowd anticipating a 35-second shot-clock violation, three-point specialist Lee Humphrey drilled a jumper from beyond the arc. It gave Florida a 27-13 lead with 9:22 left. Luckily for UK, it was the only three-pointer Humphrey made in five first-half attempts.
UK seemed nervous. Morris badly missed a foul-line jumper. Gator killer Joe Crawford (20.0 ppg last season against Florida) missed his first three shots and didn't score until the 7:14 mark.
Even Bradley missed his only two free-throw attempts. It was just the third time this season he's missed more than one.
The great equalizer, the three-point shot, failed Kentucky. The Cats missed all nine first-half attempts.