Date story was published: Sunday, February 4, 1996
Ho-hum. Flat. Not great. Not a success.
Those were some of the words the Kentucky camp used to describe its game against Florida yesterday.
Even Rick Pitino, the prince of positive thinking, turned negative when asked what he liked about the Cats' play.
Such pluses as good full-court pressure and excellent passes in the half- court offense led to "we did some things, obviously, in the half-court offense that you'd like to see different,"' he said before turning on the sarcasm. "Maybe like passing out of the post when triple-teamed."
Not that Kentucky lost. It's just that by UK's Rocky Mountain standards, a 77-63 victory over fair-to-middling Florida seemed like the Bonneville Salt Flats.
"I accept it as a win," small forward Derek Anderson said, "but not as a success."
Florida's insistence on a grinding half-court game contributed to the relative disappointment. That style makes "it look like a ho-hum game," Pitino said.
But more than appearances concerned the Cats. A 17th straight victory fueled worry in the winning locker room.
Rebounding -- or lack thereof -- was particularly troubling, the UK camp said. UK outrebounded Florida 36-33. But how could the Cats not outrebound Florida, which ranked last among Southeastern Conference teams in rebounding margin (minus 1.8)?
Dametri Hill, the Gators' only inside presence, rang up a career-high 29 points while grabbing 10 rebounds.
"Our interior defense and rebounding has to get better because we gave up too much to Dametri Hill," Pitino said. "He's close to 280 pounds. He devours our interior people. We let him catch the ball too much (because) we didn't have enough pressure on the perimeter."
A record-low 10 deflections in the first half reflected the lack of pressure UK put on the passer feeding Hill in the low post. That might be why backup center Mark Pope, whose seven points and seven rebounds drew praise from Pitino, took the coach's rebounding concerns as genuine.
"I think he's very worried," Pope said. "Rebounding is something we've been talking about for weeks and it's not been corrected."
Pitino singled out Anderson (no rebounds in 16 minutes) and Walter McCarty (one rebound in 23 minutes) as especially inadequate.
"A person with Derek Anderson's ability can't pitch a shutout," the UK coach said.
Anderson offered Pitino a reason for no rebounds.
"I told him I'm blocking out a very athletic player (Brian Thompson)," he said. "If the ball doesn't come my way, I can't yank it out of a teammate's hands. I have to find other ways to get rebounds. That's my problem."
Kentucky's second-half shot selection also sounded alarms. The Cats made only 38.7 percent of their shots after halftime. Take away 5-for-8 shooting during a press-ignited 16-2 breakout, and UK shot seven of 23 (30.4 percent) in the second half.
"We didn't make the extra pass," Pitino said.
Backup point guard Anthony Epps echoed the thought spiced with a scary analogy. "We didn't pass the ball like we do," he said. "That pretty much caught us in the tournament last year (against North Carolina). He (Pitino) is pretty disturbed."
Poor shooting (42.9 percent) and a lack of quality depth kept Florida from riding its patience to an upset victory. The Gators, 9-10 overall and 4-5 in the SEC, made only eight of their first 26 shots, and none of their first eight three-point attempts. Yet, the Gators got within 31-22 when freshman Greg Stolt finally hit a three-pointer with 2:25 left in the first half.
Hill and LeRon Williams had all of Florida's points until freshman Eddie Shannon stole the ball from Tony Delk and ran to a layup with 4:23 left. At that stage, seven UK players had scored.
"He's a grown man," UK forward Antoine Walker said of the beefy Hill. "Plus, he knows how to play."
Added Florida Coach Lon Kruger of Hill: "He was all over the boards today and kept us in the game for a while."
The Gators were within 43-35 five minutes into the second half when Kentucky put together one of its patented runs. A pretty underhanded scoop shot in traffic by Delk, who led UK with 15 points, sparked a 16-2 run.
Jeff Sheppard contributed nine points to the run. Maybe more importantly, his dunk off a lob pass from McCarty and a three-pointer from the corner brought roars from the crowd, which added to Florida's anxiety.
But afterward, Kentucky seemed ruffled by a less-than-dominating performance.
"We can't be content," Walker said. "It's February. March is just around the corner."