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Cats Play Hard, Dictate Tempo but Can't Finish Gators

Date story published: Sunday, January 20, 2008

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's 81-70 overtime victory against Kentucky Saturday night continued an irritating trend.

It wasn't just that the Gators joined Notre Dame as the only programs to beat Kentucky seven straight times. Although UK wasn't crazy about that. Asked whether it hurt to lose to Florida again, Ramel Bradley said, "Yeah, it does. It really does. But they still have to come to Rupp."

In the meantime, Kentucky will work to end the other irritating pattern: Executing a game plan fairly well, yet losing for the second time in a week.

Given it came in the Southeastern Conference's best rivalry, this one seemed more gut-wrenching than UK's valiant loss at Mississippi State on Tuesday.

Kentucky dictated the pace much of the game and made Florida work. But it didn't produce a victory.

UK Coach Billy Gillispie blamed defense. Or lack thereof. "Absolutely," he said. "We didn't guard the ball. We didn't defend the ball screen. We didn't help each other. We didn't talk. We didn't carry out assignments."

Freshman Nick Calathes, a McDonald's All-American and the SEC leader in assists, was the chief benefactor. He scored 13 of his 24 points in overtime. He also flirted with a triple-double, grabbing eight rebounds and getting credit for eight assists.

"He played great," UK senior Joe Crawford said of Calathes. "He played up to all the talk."

Led by Calathes, Florida did not miss a shot in overtime. The Gators made all three field-goal attempts (two from three-point range), and all 12 free throws. Calathes scored Florida's last eight points, all from the foul line.

Florida, which improved to 16-3 overall and 3-1 in the SEC, joined Notre Dame (1936 to 1942) as the only programs to beat Kentucky seven straight times.

UK, which got 23 points from Bradley, fell to 7-9 overall and 1-2 in the league.

Kentucky controlled the pace most of the first half. The Cats used much of the shot clock for many of their possessions. UK's defense made Florida take time to create a good shot.

As a result, Florida had only 16 points with less than five minutes remaining in the half. The Gators came into the game averaging 83 points in SEC play.

"The pace was exactly what we needed it," Gillispie said. "We got the ball where we wanted. We had a lot of one-on-one matchups against the zone."

Poor shooting and turnovers prevented Kentucky from taking control of the scoreboard. The Cats made only nine of 23 first-half shots. UK also matched the season-low 10 turnovers at Mississippi State on Tuesday when Jodie Meeks threw away a pass with 6:45 left in the half.

Kentucky apparently had a full complement of players available. Meeks and Derrick Jasper both played in the first half.

Florida led 30-25 at halftime. Center Marreese Speights, who came into the game averaging 8.0 points in SEC play, scored nine first-half points and finished with 20.

The pace got away from Kentucky in the half's final five minutes. Florida scored 14 points in that span. A 10-0 run gave the Gators their largest lead, 26-19. Speights started a key sequence in the run by blocking Patrick Patterson in the low post. That started a fast break that Calathes completed with a layup.

A 30-25 halftime deficit did not suggest a UK victory in the making. When trailing at halftime, the Cats were 0-6 coming into the game.

The second half did not begin with promise for Kentucky. Foul trouble quickly mounted as the Cats picked up six before the first television timeout. Perry Stevenson picked up his fourth foul with 17:12 left. It came as Florida grabbed an offensive rebound, causing Gillispie to shake his head in disagreement.

Less than a minute later, Patterson picked up his third foul.

A Speights layup gave Florida its largest lead, 42-30, with 14:18 left.

Kentucky rallied, outscoring Florida 16-4 over the next five minutes. Except for a Bradley three-pointer and two Meeks free throws, all the points came in the paint as UK exploited the Gators inside.

Florida kept the lead between three and five points down the stretch.

Then Jasper hit a three-pointer from the left corner to make it 58-56 with 1:29 left. Jasper, who made three of 14 three-pointers last season, improved to 6-for-9 this season.

Drama overflowed in the final 19 seconds of regulation. Bradley made two free throws with 16.6 seconds left to reduce Florida's lead to 60-58.

The Gators couldn't inbound, but a foul on Meeks as he pressed Lucas sent the freshman to the foul line. UK called two timeouts to give Lucas time to think. Lucas made one.

UK appeared to miss a chance to tie when Crawford missed a three-pointer and a referee ruled the rebound went off Patterson.

But head official Tony Greene overruled the call, giving the ball back to UK with 5.8 seconds left.

Bradley inbounded from the baseline to Patterson, took a return pass, dribbled and fired a tying three-pointer with 2.5 seconds left.

Crawford knifed around Speights for a layup to start the overtime. That marked UK's first lead since 19-18.

The lead switched three times before Speights hit a jumper in the lane to put Florida ahead 70-68 with 1:22 left.

After Bradley missed a heavily contested drive, Lucas hustled the ball upcourt and passed to Hodge in the right corner. Rather than milk the clock, Hodge hit a three-pointer to give Florida a 73-68 lead with 57.8 seconds left.