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CATS RIGHT SHIP, SINK GATORS

Date story was published: Sunday, February 24, 1991

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When Kentucky called time with 9:10 left in the game, a 13-point first-half lead was gone. UK already had nine fouls, meaning every foul thereafter would bring two Florida free throws. The crowd of 11,077 was standing and roaring.

Unlikely as it seemed, the Wildcats had Florida set up.

That became clear in the next minute as back-to-back three-pointers by Jeff Brassow and Deron Feldhaus sent Kentucky on the way to a 90-74 victory yesterday.

Those shots ignited a 31-15 spurt in the final nine minutes as UK reached the coveted 20-victory mark. The Cats also moved one giant step toward winning the Southeastern Conference championship. (Or attaining the best regular- season record, depending on your feelings about an SEC rule that prohibits a team banned from post-season play from winning a championship.)

Kentucky kept pace with Louisiana State in the SEC. LSU beat Tennessee to match UK's 12-4 league record.

Florida, falling to 11-13 overall and 7-9 in the SEC, was left scratching its collective head and wondering what happened.

"This was definitely a devastating loss," guard Renaldo Garcia said. "We felt we worked so hard to get back in the game. Then it seemed we lost it in 10 seconds. That was a heart-stopper. It just happened so fast."

What happened, Kentucky coach Rick Pitino said, was set in motion earlier in the week. With the SEC title (or best record) on the line, and remembering Vandy's half-court offense slicing up UK's defense, Pitino decided to rev up the pace.

"We wanted to recapture a little of our style from last year," Pitino said. "We gambled much more. We didn't worry about half-court execution. We wanted to get on the break more. More than anything else, we wanted to establish a fast game. We've been caught up in games that aren't suitable to our talent or that camouflage our weaknesses."

If all went right, the payoff would come in the second half, Pitino said.

"We just wanted to wear them down," the UK coach said. "That was our goal the whole game. . . . On the road, playing them shot for shot, you're probably not going to win."

Under the fast-paced stress, Florida grew tired down the stretch, Gator coach Lon Kruger said.

After Florida center Dwayne Davis missed two free throws, Brassow broke the 59-59 tie with a three-pointer from the right side. It was Brassow's only trey in eight attempts.

Sixteen seconds later, after a Florida turnover, Feldhaus hit a three- pointer from the left corner. Suddenly, UK was ahead 65-59 with 8:09 left.

"It was a big lift," Pitino said of the three-pointers. "That was really the turning point."

Feldhaus' three-pointer came in a four-minute span of highlight-film work. Feldhaus scored 10 of his 18 points in the span, including:

A two-hand put-back dunk that nearly popped out but stayed put, giving UK a 59-55 lead.

"I came flying down the lane," Feldhaus said. "No one blocked me out. It didn't go down clean, but it still felt good."

A quick drive to the basket through two defenders (Stacey Poole and Davis) for a three-point play gave the Cats a 68-61 lead.

"Their hands were higher than the ball," Feldhaus said. "A lot of times, I go for the foul in that situation. This time I wanted to take the ball strong."

A fake-left-go-right little spin move for a short flip shot. It gave UK a 70-63 lead with 6:44 left.

"I was getting easy baskets, really," Feldhaus said. "I got in the flow of the game."

Feldhaus exploited Florida's 3-2 zone defense for the baskets, Pitino said.

"We got it inside to work inside-to-out," Pitino said. "They stopped doubling down. He had one-on-one coverage."

Feldhaus' performance continued a Kentucky knack this season for having someone step forward in a time of need. Foul trouble limited UK's starting power forward, freshman Jamal Mashburn, to nine minutes and 32 seconds.

"Kentucky has a lot of people who can step forward in key moments," Kruger said. "Obviously, he (Feldhaus) is one of them. That's why they're successful. That's why they have one of the best teams in the country."

Kentucky used pressure defense to establish 13-point leads early.

"Early, Kentucky's pressure really set the tone," Kruger said. "They got a margin."

Florida was on a turnover-a-minute pace through the first 11 minutes. In a string of seven straight possessions, the Gators turned over the ball six times. Brassow blocked (engulfed?) Brian Hogan's three-point shot the only time Florida got the ball goalward.

Had UK been hitting, the Cats could have broken open the game. Kentucky hit one of four three-point attempts and one of six shots overall after establishing a 15-5 lead.

As it was, the Cats took leads of 18-5 and 20-7.

Florida committed just one turnover over the final nine minutes of the half and just eight the rest of the game. The Gators got within four points twice later in the half and tied it at 59-59 on back-to-back baskets by Poole.

Then UK took over.

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