Date story was published: Sunday, February 21, 1988
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Against Auburn, Kentucky's lack of effort led to a loss.
A bad start and questionable officiating cost the Cats at Tennessee.
Uncommonly poor shooting (28.1 percent) brought defeat against Florida last month.
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Yesterday, in the long-awaited rematch with Florida, Kentucky's problems were not self-induced. UK was outflanked, outgunned and outplayed, losing 83-76.
Did the best team win?
"Yeah, I'd have to say so," said Winston Bennett, the fiercest of UK's competitors.
In losing its second straight, Kentucky fell to 18-5 overall and 10-5 in the Southeastern Conference. LSU, 14-9 and 9-5, could have taken first had it not lost at Alabama. Vanderbilt could have tied UK for first with a victory last night at Georgia.
Florida improved to 19-8 overall and 9-5 in the SEC with its third straight victory over Kentucky. When all the cylinders are clicking, as they were yesterday, "Our best team is undefeated this year," Coach Norm Sloan said.
Outflanked? Florida's inside-out attack featured a 32-point effort from all-SEC guard Vernon Maxwell and the in-the-paint presence of freshman forward Livingston Chatman (18 points) and 7-foot-2 center Dwayne Schintzius (13 points).
UK's guards carried the burden. Rex Chapman (24 points) and Ed Davender (17) accounted for 41 of Kentucky's 76 points. Bennett and Rob Lock grabbed 12 rebounds each, but neither was a force inside. The usually cooperative Lock was so distraught afterward, he begged off interview requests.
Bennett could only concede he had not been at his best for a second straight game. "Why that was, I don't know," he said. "Even before I got in foul trouble, I wasn't playing."
Outgunned? Four Florida starters scored in double figures. The exception was point guard Ronnie Montgomery, who contributed eight assists and four steals.
Chapman, who made only nine of 22 shots, and Davender (seven of 17) were the only two Cats in double figures.
Outplayed? "We made a lot of mistakes," Davender said. "Florida capitalized on about every one of them. They got a lot of loose balls, a lot of second shots. Give them credit."
Florida led for 30 minutes and 26 seconds. The Gators were ahead throughout the second half, pushing the cushion to as much as 15. Three Chapman three-pointers, and another by Eric Manuel, got UK within seven at the end.
But as Chapman noted, "We let ourselves get too far down. They (the three- pointers) never got us close enough. They didn't matter."
UK's largest lead was 25-22.
Six straight points from Chatman put Kentucky behind for good.
"I felt the game was getting a little dull," said Chatman, who missed the game in Lexington because of arthroscopic knee surgery. "I felt I could do something inside to help the team win."
It almost seemed that easy.
"Florida did an excellent job of kicking it inside to Schintzius," Bennett said. "If he didn't have it, he'd kick it back out. Chatman was on. Vern was on. Montgomery was on. (Chris) Capers and (Dwayne) Davis were there hitting the boards."
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Maxwell, who came within two points of his career high, started slowly. The 6-5 senior guard missed his first five shots.
"It's the mark of a spectacular player to keep putting it up," Bennett said. "He knows before the game's over, he'll be on. Vern's a spectacular athlete. The fact we held him (to 19 points) in Lexington is a miracle."
Maxwell scored 23 in the second half.
"I'm a competitor," Maxwell said. "My game is better when the competition is a little higher."
Chapman guarded Maxwell. "I tried my best," Chapman said.
Typically, a UK turnover got Maxwell on the scoreboard. Bennett's turnover against the Florida press led to Maxwell's transition layup with 13:08 left in the first half. Maxwell got 13 points off the break.
A Chapman three-pointer gave UK its 25-22 lead. Chatman answered with six points, fueling an 8-1 Florida run that pushed the Gators toward a 37-30 lead at the half.
"I thought in the first half we played pretty well," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "We did well with the tempo of the game. Then we got outscored 15-5."
"We missed shots during that time (including a layup by Bennett after rebounding Lock's missed free throw) and maybe shot too quickly," assistant James Dickey said.
"In the second half, our defense broke down," Sutton said. "We tried man- to-man. We tried (1-2-2) zone. Neither accomplished very much."
Bennett's tip-in got UK within 37-34 in the first minute of the second half, the closest the Cats came to getting even.
Chapman nearly took the ball from Montgomery on the next possession. But the Florida point guard retrieved the ball and whipped it to Chatman underneath. Chatman was fouled by Lock on the layup. The three-point play extended the lead to 40-34.
"Some kind of way, he got the ball back," Davender said of Montgomery. "On another day, we'd get it."
A Chapman turnover quelled UK's other serious rally. The Cats had cut the deficit to 53-49 when Maxwell picked off a Chapman pass and sped to a layup. Chapman was called for blocking on the shot, leading to a three-point play.
"They were playing the passing lanes," Chapman said. "That was my fault for not penetrating and then passing."
The play sparked an 11-2 Florida run that put UK behind 64-51 with nine minutes left.
Four other points in the run came courtesy of the Cats. Lock fumbled a rebound away to Schintzius, who made a 5-footer.
Then Montgomery reached down and took Davender's dribble. Davender blocked the path to a conventional outlet. So Montgomery backhanded a pass that a streaking Maxwell caught in stride en route to a fast-break slam.
"They were a little lackadaisical with the ball," Maxwell said of UK's guards. "Their bad passes got our transition game going."
By game's end, a confident Florida did not need a turnover to run. After Chapman hit a leaner in the lane, cutting the lead to 69-60, Maxwell took off. An inbounds pass and long lead pass found Maxwell underneath for another layup.
Chapman's only option was to foul intentionally or yield the layup. Chapman grabbed Maxwell, whose layup and two free throws on the intentional foul removed what doubt remained about which team would win.
"Anytime the point man penetrates, someone else has to get back," Chapman said. "I guess the other guys got hung in the lane."