Date story published: Friday, February 5, 1999
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - To the day, Kentucky lost a Southeastern Conference road game for the first time in two years last night.
But that wasn't the numerical oddity that marked Florida's 75-68 victory as memorable. That distinction belonged to UK's nearly nonexistent marksmanship from beyond the shadow of the basket.
Kentucky, the program that produced Pitino's Bombinos, threatened to go without a three-pointer for the first time in 357 games (or since the 1988 Great Alaska Shootout).
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Only two meaningless three-pointers in the final 62 seconds saved the Cats from that ignominy. After Kentucky missed its first 16 three-point shots, Saul Smith hit with 1:02 left. It reduced Florida's nearly wire-to-wire lead to 70-59. Then Scott Padgett hit a trey with 21.5 seconds left to pull the Cats within 73-66.
Too little. Too late. Much to the delight of a raucous record crowd of 12,443 in the O'Connell Center. It snapped a 15-game SEC road winning streak for UK, the longest such streak in the league since 1980-81.
"They only blocked one (perimeter) shot, so we were getting good looks," UK Coach Tubby Smith said . "They just didn't go down."
Padgett, who made only one of nine shots (one of seven from three-point range), bravely, if not correctly, took responsibility for the loss.
"If I play half my normal game, we win this game," he said. "If I made two or three shots (early), that would have gotten the team going. A lot of times, the team feeds off me, Wayne (Turner) and Mu (Heshimu Evans). Today I played my worst game ever."
Padgett had no explanation. "All my shots were wide open," he said. "I kept shooting thinking I was going to make one."
Smith also sounded perplexed. "We've been trying to talk him into getting his shot off quicker," the UK coach said. "I thought he got it off quick. It just didn't go down."
Kentucky, which did not lead in the final 36:22 , fell to 19-5 overall and 8-2 in the SEC.
Florida, which got the statement victory its freshman-laden team craved, improved to 16-4 overall and 7-3 in the SEC.
In terms of perimeter shooting, the teams defied recent form. Florida spent the week bemoaning 1-for-10 three-point shooting in the second half at Mississippi State last weekend. The Gators made nine of 20 against UK.
Kentucky had improved its three-point shooting by 10 percentage points in league play (26.7 percent in pre-conference games, 37.7 against SEC teams) until coming to Florida.
"I'd love to say we did a good job defending," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said. "I can't honestly say that. On any given night, you don't shoot well."
Kentucky had much the better of it in a first-half duel of full-court presses. The Cats also dominated the rebounding, especially on their offensive end.
But UK trailed most of the half, the biggest deficit the halftime score of 42-33. Why? Because, as expected, Florida shot much better at home than it did in Rupp Arena a month ago.
Even the Gators might have been surprised by making seven of 12 three-point shots in the half. That matched the seven (of 22) Florida made in Rupp Arena.
In contrast, Kentucky struggled with its perimeter shooting. The Cats missed all seven of their three-point shots in the first half. UK made 11 of 22 three-point shots against Florida in Rupp Arena.
"I don't think we hit but one jumper in the first half," Smith said, correctly.
Florida shot well from the start. The Gators made their first six shots, including treys by Major Parker and Greg Stolt.
How well was Florida shooting? Kentucky did not grab a defensive rebound until barely more than eight minutes remained in the half.
But offensive rebounding kept Kentucky close. The Cats grabbed a whopping 14 offensive rebounds in the half, and a season-high 21 for the game. Board work helped the Cats outscore Florida 42-18 in the paint.
"They didn't have anybody tall enough or strong enough" to defend UK inside, center Mike Bradley said. "But I didn't notice it because they were dominating us from outside."
UK also used its press effectively. Repeatedly, the Cats turned turnovers into easy scoring opportunities.
A defensive play got the Cats even at 30-30 with 5:28 left in the first half. Jamaal Magloire ignited the tying basket by enforcing his personal no-fly zone around the basket. He blocked freshman Mike Miller's driving layup. The block led to a Turner fast-break layup.
Despite its youth, Florida did not wilt. Helped by Magloire's missing four free throws in the final 3:15, Florida outscored the Cats 12-3 down the stretch to break the game's last deadlock.
The odds did not favor a UK come-from-behind victory in the second half. The Cats had been 2-4 in games they trailed at halftime.
Kentucky continued to miss three-pointers and free throws in the second half.
Florida made only two treys in the second half. Both seemed huge. With the Gators ahead 46-36, Brent Wright banked in a three from the top of the key.
"Banking in a three," Smith said. "They were ready and focused. Florida was much more aggressive, much more enthusiastic, had a lot more energy."
When Kentucky closed within 59-52, nearly six minutes remained. But a come-from-behind victory died when Miller hit a three-pointer while being fouled by Evans. Miller finished with a game-high 20 points.
"We tell guys to high jump and not run through (the shooter)," Smith said. "They were in that zone."