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GATORS FALL 78-74 AS WOODS STARS DOWN THE STRETCH

Date story was published: Tuesday, February 13, 1990

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Persistence paid off for Kentucky last night.

After 15 straight losses away from Rupp Arena, a streak that stretched back to Tennessee last January, UK won a road game. The Cats overtook luckless Florida down the stretch to win 78-74.

And who should be the hero but Sean Woods. And what play should put Kentucky ahead for good but "Power," the maneuver Woods had misfired on in his previous five king-making attempts.

Last night, the game tied at 71 with less than two minutes left, UK coach Rick Pitino called for "Power," by now a painfully familiar play. Woods dribbled off a Deron Feldhaus pick at the top of the key and headed for the goal.

Asked what he thought of running "Power" again in a touchy situation, Woods turned philosopher.

"You can't think of the past when you're playing in the present," he said. "Besides, there was enough time left to get another shot. It wasn't a last- second shot."

Coach Rick Pitino called "Power," he said, because Florida "needed to come up and pressure. If they're going to sag, it's not a good play."

True to Don DeVoe's coaching style, the Gators played aggressive man-to-man defense.

Woods drove and -- this time -- banked in a leaner from the left side. Fouled on the play, Woods converted a three-point play with 1:58 left to point UK to victory.

It could have been easy. Reggie Hanson's layup off the half-court offense gave UK a 76-71 lead with 1:35 left.

But Florida got a driving three-point play from Renaldo Garcia to get to within two, 76-74. When Feldhaus shot an air ball on the first of a one-and- one free throw with 38 seconds left, Florida had a chance to snap its eight-game losing streak.

Garcia drove again. But Woods separated Garcia from the ball as the Florida guard rose for his own banker from the left side. Victory was Kentucky's. Woods hit two clinching free throws.

"Finally," Woods said. "Finally we won one after all those tries. I couldn't let this one slip away."

Woods' efforts earned two hugs from Reggie Hanson.

"Great defensive play," Hanson said. "That's what I told him. He finally did it. That's what I told him."

Garcia, who had 16 points and a career-high seven assists, had no complaint.

"Sean Woods made a great defensive play," Garcia said. "It was a clean defensive play."

Unlike UK's recent road collapses at Auburn and Mississippi State, the Cats held together down the stretch.

Florida continued its pattern of frittering away leads. For the ninth time this season, the Gators lost a game in which they led with six or fewer minutes to go. Last night Florida led 70-64 with 4:37 left.

"Kentucky was beat," said second-year freshman Stacey Poole, who tied his career high with 24 points. "I know that. And you know that. We just let it slip away."

DeVoe, his shell of a team falling to 6-14 overall and 2-10 in the Southeastern Conference, pointed instead to UK's continual pressing. Florida broke it for several easy baskets early.

Down the stretch, it yielded two big turnovers. With UK trailing 70-67, Richie Farmer stole an inbounds pass and hit a layup. After Woods' three-point play, freshman Hosie Grimlsey hesitated, then threw a pressured pass out of bounds.

"It seems to me that there was a point in the game where a lack of depth really hurt us," DeVoe said. "Again, that had a lot to do with Kentucky's style of play and their ability to extend the defense and force a lot more turnovers in the second half than they did in the first half."

Kentucky played an uninspired first half, falling behind 44-36 at the break to the winless (post-Dwayne Schintzius) Gators.

UK's defense, in particular, lacked intensity. The Cats played mostly zone, a defense intended to keep the poor-shooting Gators on the perimeter.

So what happened? Florida shot 14 layups in the half. The Gators made 10 of the inside shots.

Poole did most of the damage inside. Poole, a 6-foot-6 forward, hit the Cats for 17 points.

As Pitino suspected, Florida did not use a total slowdown offense. The Gators didn't have to. After moving the ball around the perimeter once or twice, Florida couldn't resist something good inside.

The high-percentage shots allowed Florida to stay ahead most of the half.

Hanson's foul trouble helped Florida's inside work. Hanson, UK's indispensable center, picked up his third foul with 11:15 left. Hanson went to the bench with two points and two rebounds to show for his half.

Derrick Miller's shooting and Feldhaus' work inside kept UK close.

Miller led UK with 14 points in the first half. He had four three-pointers, the fourth cutting Florida's largest lead of the half (40-31) to 40-34.

Dunks or layups comprised Florida's first four second-half baskets.

The Gators had three dunks, two off lob passes over UK's press.

The second, by Poole, allowed Florida to equal its largest lead, nine points, at 52-43.

Kentucky promptly ran off a 10-0 run that enabled the Cats to equal their largest lead to that point: three points.

"We stayed aggressive," Pitino said. "We're getting better defensively in the second half in the last four or five games."

The teams played evenly until Grimsley and Brian Hogan hit three-pointers to give Florida its 70-64 lead.

UK rallied without leading scorer Miller. With the game hanging in the balance, Miller threw up a shot while stumbling into the lane. Out he went with 5:18 left. Farmer came in. Miller did not return.

"He made a mistake in our press and we wanted to get the right shots," Pitino said of the benching. "Plus, I wanted an extra ball-handler. I just felt it was the thing to do. Call it a gut feeling."

Miller did not mind.

"Hey, man, as long as we win," Miller said, "I don't worry about it."

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