Date story published: Monday, March 5, 2001
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Given up for dead (in basketball terms, the NIT) when three starters suffered major injuries in January, Florida found inspiration in gaining a share of the Southeastern Conference championship by beating Kentucky 94-86 yesterday.
Coach Billy Donovan likened the feeling of accomplishment to memorable basketball moments in his life. "It's similar to when Kentucky played Duke and Christian Laettner hit the shot," he said. "It's similar to Providence, which hadn't been in the NCAA Tournament for 10 years, and then going to the Final Four (in 1987).
"I don't think anybody expected us to do this."
Florida lost Teddy Dupay (back surgery), Justin Hamilton (torn ACL) and Brent Wright twice (ankle and wrist surgeries). Yet, the Gators shook that and a 1-3 SEC start to tie Kentucky for the championship, only the third league title in the program's modest history.
In terms of dealing with adversity, assistant coach John Pelphrey found parallels to his time as a member of UK's "Unforgettables." But there was one difference. "Huge expectations" on Florida, he said. "Then all of a sudden crazy things start to happen."
Pelphrey cited three factors that helped Florida: (1) "our faith in the Good Lord above." (2) "Billy never allowed these guys to wallow in self-pity." (3) "the character of these kids. Phenomenal."
UK took pride in its season, too. A tough schedule and a roster that included seven newcomers brought out doubters.
Aside from getting outrebounded by Florida, UK Coach Tubby Smith stood tall.
"Otherwise, I'm very proud of this team and how much we accomplished this year," he said. "I thought the effort was good. A call here or a play there, things might have gone the right way for us (yesterday)."
Oh those refs
An incorrect offensive-interference call took away a Marvin Stone tip-in and led to a six-point swing in Florida's favor.
Yet Florida didn't feel sorry for UK.
The Gators protested a debatable charging call on Brett Nelson four seconds into the game.
Donovan cited the Nelson charge and other calls when asked about the offensive interference.
"I thought Kentucky hand-checked and was physical," he said, "and there weren't a lot of calls. We weren't able to hand-check."
Despite replays clearly indicating referee Curtis Shaw was wrong to call basket interference on Stone, Smith did not advocate the use of TV monitors to ensure correct calls.
"It's part of the game," the UK coach said of incorrect calls. "Replays probably shouldn't be part of the game."
'U of Estill'
The game had to be halted shortly after UK reserve Marquis Estill entered the game. He had his jersey on backward.
"I just didn't notice it like I should have," he said.
Perhaps his pride talking, Estill said he was not embarrassed. "It wasn't embarrassing at all," he said. "I didn't care."
UK equipment manager Bill Keightley noted that he and the managers get the uniforms to the players. They are not responsible for the players putting the uniforms on correctly.
It's happened before, Keightley said. For a pre-season exhibition game, Deron Feldhaus once put his jersey on backward as a freshman.
As for Estill's mistake, Keightley laughed and said, "He was playing for the University of Estill."
The scoring title in league games was about as closely contested as the race for the regular-season championship.
Florida guard Brett Nelson won the SEC scoring title. His 17 points yesterday gave him 286 in SEC play.
UK swingman Tayshaun Prince finished second. His 18 points yesterday gave him 285.
Referee John Clougherty had a trying day. He slipped on a wet spot and fell with 28.8 seconds left in the first half. He lay on the floor for several minutes before getting up slowly and heading off the court for treatment.
Clougherty said his shoulders hit first on the fall. That caused his head to snap back to the floor. An examination at halftime showed no serious damage to his neck, he said.
Prince made two of two free throws. That made him 27 of 28 in the last six games and 46 of 50 in the last 15 games. ... Donovan gained his 100th victory as Florida coach. That made him the quickest Florida coach to 100. ... Florida became only the 10th team to shoot 50 percent or better against a Smith-coached UK team. That's 10 opponents in 137 games.