Date story was published: Thursday, January 21, 1988
Kentucky's gamelong climb fell one debatable shot short last night, allowing Florida to hang on to a 58-56 victory at Rupp Arena.
With first place in the Southeastern Conference at stake, UK led only by one point three times. The leads lasted a collective 57 seconds on a night when the Cats shot a 28-game low 28.1 percent. UK hit just 25 percent of its shots (12 of 48) in the 76-41 home loss to Louisiana State last year.
Florida, which hit nine of its first 12 shots, led by as many as 12 early. After withstanding a UK charge, Florida was ahead 58-51 with 3:24 left.
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The Gators wouldn't score again, but UK couldn't come all the way back.
A funky-looking drive and flip in the lane by Richard Madison cut the lead to 58-53.
After Florida came up empty on two possessions -- Chris Capers, who had 12 rebounds as injured Livingston Chatman's replacement, missed a wide-open 5- footer and Ronnie Montgomery charged -- Winston Bennett hung in the air for a three-point play under the basket.
Bennett's basket, part of a team-high 20-point, 11-rebound effort, cut the Florida lead to 58-56 with 1:20 left.
When Florida's leading scorer, Vernon Maxwell, missed a shot-clock three- pointer, UK had the chance to tie or win.
After a timeout with 21 seconds left, the shot UK got was a Madison three- pointer with seven seconds left. "My first since last year," Madison said.
The 221-footer hit the rim and bounced off. After needing two fouls to get Florida to the foul line for a one-and-one, Maxwell missed the bonus with three seconds left. But Cedric Jenkins and Davender hesitated on the exchange, leaving Davender with a desperation 60-foot heave that was launched after the buzzer.
UK, falling to 12-2 overall, dropped into SEC second place at 5-2.
Florida extended its longest winning streak of the season to four and assumed a share of first place at 4-1 with LSU, which beat Alabama last night. The Gators improved to 13-4 overall.
"Richard shot the ball but he wasn't the one we wanted to shoot it," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "We had overloaded the zone on the right side and had Winston Bennett set a pick for Rex (Chapman)."
The Cats wanted Chapman to shoot from the left baseline. "Even though Rex had a horrible shooting night (five of 19), he normally hit shots in that situation," Sutton said.
Davender was supposed to make the pass to Chapman from the top of the key.
"They overplayed the passing lane," said Davender, noting a gamelong tendency Florida showed in its 2-3 zone. So Davender passed to Madison on the left wing.
Did Davender expect to get the ball back?
"I was looking to get it back," Davender said, "but they overplayed the passing lane on me also.
"It wasn't too bad a shot. If Richard had made it, everything would be great."
Said Madison: "I wouldn't have taken it if I didn't have confidence."
UK's horrendous shooting, Florida's quick start and the immense presence of 7-2 center Dwayne Schintzius combined to put the Cats into the do-or-die situation.
Florida hit Kentucky with its best shot early, building a 12-point lead in the first eight minutes.
"That really stunned us," Sutton said.
Schintzius, who struggled to a 3-for-14 night here last year, made four of his first five shots to lead the early run.
Schintzius finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. He had 15 points in two games against Kentucky last season.
Meanwhile, UK got a combined nine points and six rebounds from its centers. Rob Lock had as many turnovers (five) as combined points (four) and rebounds (one).
"That was certainly the worst Rob's played this season," Sutton said, "and maybe the worst of his Kentucky career."
Said a somber Lock: "I just want to forget about this. It was the worse I've played all year."
Backup Cedric Jenkins missed all six of his shots and finished with five points and five rebounds.
Freshman LeRon Ellis, suffering from a bad cold, wasn't able to play. "At the shoot-around this morning it was obvious he wasn't up to par," Sutton said.
When Schintzius hit a 10-footer to make it 13-2, UK called time at the 16:39 mark to regroup.
The Cats made only 34.5 percent of their first-half shots. If Florida hadn't cooled to 46.9 percent, the game might have been over after it assumed a 21-9 lead.
But after the 9-for-12 start, the Gators missed eight of their next 11 shots.
UK chipped away. Two Madison baskets -- a man-sized tip-in and a post-up over Schintzius -- cut the deficit to 21-13.
Two free throws reduced the lead to 21-15.
After an exchange of baskets, Chapman hit a three-pointer on a in-and-out pass from Madison. The shot cut the deficit to 23-20.
When Davender stole the ball from Ronnie Montgomery and was fouled, he made both free throws to make it 23-22.
UK got no closer in the half, trailing at intermission 34-33 thanks to Davender's three-point in the closing seconds.
"I felt pretty good at halftime," Sutton said. "We didn't shoot well in the first half. But we got a lot of shots we normally hit."
The Cats made even less of their shots in the second half: six of 28 for 21.4 percent. Three of the field goals were -- to be delicate -- unorthodox: an awkward leaner in the lane by Bennett; Madison's walking-on-eggs pop in the lane late, and Bennett's hang-in-the-air three-point play.
Chapman gave the credit to Florida's zone.
"We haven't played well against a zone all year," Chapman said. "Teams have learned how to play us and we'll have to do something about it."
Despite the awful shooting, the Cats finally got their first lead four minutes into the second half.
Bennett, who made only six of his 15 shots, grabbed a loose ball underneath and went up. He was fouled and his two free throws put UK ahead for the first time, 39-38, with 14:01 left.
The lead lasted 27 seconds. Maxwell's two free throws put Florida ahead again.
UK's next two leads didn't last that long. With UK ahead 41-40 on Chapman's jumper, Schintzius hit a turnaround 18 seconds later.
Bennett's two free throws put UK ahead 43-42. Twelve seconds later, Schintzius hit another turnaround.
Pat Lawrence's rebound shot put Florida ahead 46-43 and prompted a UK timeout with 9:05 left.
"If I had to pick one thing other than the poor shooting, I'd say it was rebounding," Sutton said for reasons UK lost. "They really kicked us on the boards (40-33, 25-16 on the baskets UK shot at). Our defensive rebounding was horrible."
Florida led 48-45 when it appeared UK might pull out the victory. With 6:14 left, Schintzius picked up his fourth foul. Jenkins' two free throws cut the Florida lead to 48-47.
At the other end, Montgomery threw up a three-pointer. A lecture from Coach Norm Sloan followed.
"Coach Sloan asked me, 'What are you doing?,' " Montgomery said. "He said, 'Pass it to Schintzius. They can't stop Schintzius.' "
Schintzius sandwiched two turnarounds around Maxwell's banker to give Florida a 54-47 edge.