12:00 PM ET, March 7, 2004
Rupp Arena, Lexington, Kentucky
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Just in time for the postseason, Kentucky is making more 3-point shots and routing opponents.Gerald Fitch scored 21 points and Erik Daniels added 15 points, 14 rebounds and six assists to lead No. 9 Kentucky past Florida 82-62 Sunday in the regular-season finale for both teams.The Wildcats (23-4, 13-3 Southeastern Conference) beat the Gators (18-9, 9-7) for the sixth straight time, and eighth time in the last nine meetings. Both teams have clinched first-round byes in this week's SEC tournament in Atlanta.Kentucky, the SEC East division champion, finished second overall in the conference, behind West division champion Mississippi State. The Wildcats' six-game winning streak is their second-longest this season, after opening with seven straight wins."I think we've been preparing for the SEC tournament the past couple weeks," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said.Four of the wins in the Wildcats' current streak have by at least 17 points, and Kentucky has made at least 10 3-pointers in three of its last four games. The Wildcats, who have struggled with their perimeter shooting most of the season, went 10-of-30 against Florida."They become very, very tough when they shoot the ball like they did in the second half," Florida coach Billy Donovan said of the Wildcats.Kentucky made 6-of-12 3-point attempts after halftime. Smith said the Wildcats attempted so many 3-pointers because Florida's zone defense left shooters open.Early in the second half, Kentucky used a 17-0 run, which featured consecutive 3-pointers by Antwain Barbour, Daniels, Fitch and Barbour again, and a conventional 3-point play by Cliff Hawkins, to turn a six-point lead into a rout.The Wildcats led 52-29 after the run, and Florida, which had its four-game win streak snapped, came no closer than 14 points during the final 15:44."In spurts, we play as well as any team," Smith said. "And we have spurts where we play as bad as any team."Kentucky's Chuck Hayes also had a double double with 12 points, 12 rebounds and six assists."I was hungry for the ball, and each time it came, I had the energy to go get it," Hayes said.Hayes and Daniels alone matched Florida's rebound total of 26, as Kentucky finished with 53 rebounds, including 23 offensive."That's probably the most productive we've been on the offensive boards in awhile," Smith said. "We showed a lot of toughness. Teams that win championships are tough teams."Kelenna Azubuike, who didn't start for the first time this season, added 12 points -- all in the first half -- for the Wildcats. Barbour also scored 12 points for Kentucky, which recorded assists on 25 of its 32 baskets.Anthony Roberson went 6-of-8 from 3-point range and scored 22 points for Florida. However, he had 19 in the second half, after Kentucky built a sizable lead.David Lee added 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting for Florida, and Matt Walsh scored 12 points -- 10 in the second half.Florida led 13-12 with 10:53 left in the first half, but Kentucky had a 19-4 run to take a 31-17 lead.Kentucky led 35-26 at halftime as Florida's top two scorers, Roberson and Walsh, combined for only five first-half points. Roberson, the point guard, played only 6½ minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls in the first two minutes.The halftime margin could have been more lopsided had Lee not scored 12 points on 3-of-3 field-goal shooting and 6-of-6 on free throws.Roberson cut the Kentucky lead to six points with a 3-pointer early in the second half before Kentucky went on its game-clinching run. Barbour capped the run with a dunk off an assist by Fitch."They really punished us on the glass and that was the key," Donovan said. "They are much more physically stronger than we are. They were able to overpower us in many areas."
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