Date story published: Thursday, January 30, 1997
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Kentucky sophomore Ron Mercer snapped out of a shooting slump last night. Then again, as Florida Coach Billy Donovan saw it, Mercer almost could not avoid a solid offensive game against the outmanned Gators.
"Being defended man-to-man by (walk-on) Dan Williams, that's a good way to get yourself going if you're Mercer," Donovan said.
Kentucky enjoyed plenty of standout performances in beating Florida 92-65.
Mercer, who had been shooting 34 percent against Southeastern Conference teams, hit nine of 16 shots en route to a 18-point game.
Anthony Epps, who had made only two of 14 shots in his previous two games, made six of 11 shots in a 16-point game. He credited a shooting tip offered by UK radio commentator and former All-American Kyle Macy during yesterday's shootaround. "He told me I should be stepping more toward the goal rather than (shoot) off-balanced," Epps said. "I had to keep my feet pointed more toward the basket rather than sideways."
Jared Prickett, who had totaled 17 points in his previous four games, looked like a poor man's Derek Anderson: 13 points, eight rebounds, four steals, two assists. "Prickett's playing fantastic basketball," UK Coach Rick Pitino said. "He's cutting across (the lane), catching in traffic, pivoting, making great passes."
A lot of mismatches heavily favoring Kentucky - not just Mercer-Williams - fueled the second most lopsided loss for Florida in the O'Connell Center.
"If both teams are excelling in terms of effort, then the more talented team wins," UK Coach Rick Pitino said of the contest pitting him and his protege, Donovan. "We're more talented in every position."
Kentucky, 19-2 overall and 7-1 in the SEC, was simply too good for Florida (10-10 and 3-5). Donovan suffered the most lopsided loss in an otherwise uplifting first year in Gainesville. Asked afterward if No. 3 Kentucky intimidated his Gators, Donovan said, "Oh, I definitely think so. Look at our team. Only two guys had played quality minutes against Kentucky. There was definitely some nervousness and wondering what to expect. We played too fast, and our guys got rattled."
Still, the game left Pitino in a foul mood. Or more correctly, left the UK coach concerned about fouls when the Cats face a more formidable opponent.
"I am concerned a little bit about our numbers," Pitino said. "We have to be very concerned that we don't foul out of hustle."
Against the undersized Gators, sophomore center Nazr Mohammed totaled 18 points and eight rebounds. The problem was he only played 14 minutes because of foul trouble. "If we can keep him in the game, get him 24 or 26 minutes, I think he can be a big factor," Pitino said.
One Mohammed foul stuck in Pitino's mind. The big man drew a whistle reaching in against point guard Eddie Shannon outside the three-point line.
"I made a couple stupid reach-in fouls," Mohammed admitted. Asked why he reached in against Shannon, the UK big man said, "After I trapped him, he lost the ball for a second. Seeing how he was lower than me, that made me foul him."
Said Pitino: "He has to learn he can't steal on the ball. As a matter of fact, he can't steal, period. Just play good position defense."
UK featured a balanced attack. Five Cats reached double figures.
Meanwhile, Florida's leading scorer, forward Greg Stolt, did not score until he made two free throws with 17:20 left in the game. He got his only basket at the 10:47 mark.
Kentucky's front line dominated Florida's. That figured. The Gators came into the game ranked 11th among SEC teams in rebound margin (minus 6.1).
Mercer, Scott Padgett and Mohammed outscored their Florida counterparts 25-7 in the first half.
"We just got manhandled," Donovan said.
Florida's only chance to stay close rested with the three-point shot. The Gators made eight. When Shannon hit a trey to cut UK's lead to 23-15, the Cats called time with 10:45 left.
Message received. UK reeled off the next 13 points to break open the game. Florida didn't make another three-pointer for more than five minutes.
Epps punctuated the first half for Kentucky. He had made as many as three three-pointers just once since early December. He made three in the first half, two down the stretch that helped break open the score.