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Cats finally end Gators' domination

Becky Pavan had black smudge marks around her eyes, which were still wet from the crying.

As the freshman middle blocker tried to describe her final kill that gave Kentucky a 3-2 upset win over No. 12 Florida Sunday, Pavan's hands started to shake and her voice started to quiver.

Her eyes nearly spilled over again.

"It wasn't real," she said. "I had to look at the scoreboard to make sure. ... It's something I'll never forget. It will replay in my head over and over and over again."

It will be one worth reliving.

The Cats were able to rebound from a 2-1 deficit to drop Florida in five sets, 25-23, 14-25, 20-25, 25-20 and 15-7.

It was UK's first win over Florida, which has won 17 straight Southeastern Conference titles, since 1990. The Gators had a 38-game win streak over the Cats coming into Sunday's game.

"We won this for the program," junior setter Sarah Rumely said. "You have to come in and play with a chip on your shoulder so when you do win it means that much more."

The win moved UK into first place in the Southeastern Conference, but if the Gators win their final three matches, the two teams will be considered conference co-champions.

The Cats, who haven't won a conference title since 1988, have to win their two remaining matches.

Coach Craig Skinner said he did his celebrating in the locker room and now has started focusing on the upcoming games, but he smiled when asked about the importance of a win like this for his program.

"I'm excited about what happened today," Skinner said. "It's a huge win. It's a mental thing for us to understand that we can compete with anyone we play with."

A season-record crowd of 3,512 in Memorial Coliseum and some adrenaline got the Cats through the first set, which they won 25-23 behind Lauren Rapp's six kills.

She was one of three UK players with double-digit kills with 10, as well as nine digs.

But Kentucky's adrenaline started to fade in the second set when their attack errors allowed Florida to lead the whole way and win easily 25-14.

UK had 15 total errors in that game, including handing Florida 10 of its final 13 points. In the third game, Florida rode an 8-3 run to end the game a 25-20 winner.

But in the fourth, something changed for UK.

"Early in the fourth game, our team started to believe again that 'Hey, we belong here,'" Skinner said. "I'm not sure they believed it in games two and three."

A 6-1 run ended the game. That run included two dinks for Rumely and an assist on a block with Queen Nzenwa.

"When things started clicking, we started believing as a group that everything was going to go our way," said Rumely, who had 46 assists, nine digs, six kills and two service aces for UK.

In the final, decisive fifth game, UK broke open a 3-3 tie with an 8-2 run that ultimately put the match away.

"Coming into the fourth, you got the feeling that everything was going our way," said Pavan, who had four of her game-high 14 kills and an ace in the final game. "We weren't going to give up. ...

"We were trying to make Kentucky proud."

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