Date story published: Monday, March 10, 2008
After Kentucky swingman Derrick Jasper banked in a three-pointer from the left corner (you read that right, from the left corner), he had a message for his teammates at the next timeout.
"He came to the huddle and was like, 'The bank's open on Sunday,'" teammate Ramel Bradley said with a laugh.
So was the novelty store, magic supplies and the Improbabilities 'R Us nook as Kentucky beat Florida 75-70 on a memorable Senior Day.
In completing its rise from the dead this Southeastern Conference season, UK again proved itself the master of the shot clock. Repeatedly, the Cats hit H-O-R-S-E shots that brought down the H-O-U-S-E.
Florida kept seniors Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley contained. So up popped lesser lights like Perry Stevenson (SEC- high 18 points), Ramon Harris (nine), A.J. Stewart (four points after scoring all of seven in league play) and Jasper (career-high 14) to show the way.
To explain an 11th SEC victory by eight or fewer points, Stevenson said, "All I can say is hard work. We don't have any magicians unless somebody has talent I don't know about. No magicians."
UK, which improved to 18-11 overall and 12-4 in the SEC, rode a bundle of good fortune to a pair of 16-point leads in the second half.
Harris, who had made only three three-pointers in league play, gave Kentucky the lead for good at 38-35 with a three. That started a carnival sideshow disguised as a 20-4 run that gave the Cats a 55-39 lead.
In that six-minute span, Jasper banked in the three-pointer from the corner to make it 44-35.
"I thought I was going to brick it off the side of the backboard," Jasper said. "Thank God it went in."
After a Bradley three-pointer pushed the lead to 47-35, prompting a Florida timeout with 13:39 left, Jasper struck again.
This time Stevenson stood at the top of the key, oblivious to a shot clock inside five seconds. Jasper rushed over, practically took the ball from Stevenson and rushed a knuckleball toward the rim. "I thought, 'What are you doing?' " Stevenson said.
Stewart, who had played only 20 minutes against SEC competition, later took a shot-clock inspired desperation shot from the top of the key. It bounced high off the rim, then settled into the basket.
On UK's next possession, Jasper (who had nine three-pointers against SEC teams this season) made his fourth (yes, a career-high) to put the Cats ahead 60-44.
"We made a lot of lucky shots today, I'll tell you what," UK Coach Billy Gillispie acknowledged. "But we'll take them."
Kentucky needed them.
Florida rallied down the stretch.
The Gators, 21-10 overall, 8-8 in the SEC and staring at an NIT bid, rallied down the stretch. UK's attempt to "milk the clock allowed us to be more aggressive and attack (without worrying about the Cats looking to score after breaking the press)," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said. "We gave ourselves a chance."
Florida, which made its first seven shots and then made only six of the next 24, rode big man Marreese Speights and floor leader Nick Calathes down the stretch. Calathes, who finished with 16 points, reduced the margin to 62-52 with a driving three-point play.
In the frenetic final four minutes, the Gators nearly squeezed the life out of Kentucky's lead. Poor free-throw shooting by Bradley (missed the front end of a one-and-one) and Jasper (missed one-and-one and another 0-for-2 trip to the line) further tightened the vise. Jai Lucas's contested flip shot reduced the lead to 73-70 with 23 seconds left.
Then the fun began. Twice with 17.8 seconds left, UK called timeout to prevent violations for a defensive five-second and failure to inbounds.
On the third attempt, the Cats got the ball to Stevenson, whom Florida fouled. He made the two clinching free throws with 9.6 seconds left.
"We put on a clinic right there at the end running press offense," Gillispie quipped.
That left Florida to lament a victory that got away.
"If we played hard like that from the beginning, it wouldn't have even been close," Speights said. "You can look at stuff after the game. But the game's over. You can't do anything about it now."
Nor could Florida do anything about Kentucky's improbable shot-making.
"They hit some big shots at the (shot-clock) buzzer," Calalthes said. "Casper, or Jasper his name is, hit some."