12:00 PM ET, March 5, 2006
Rupp Arena, Lexington, Kentucky
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- During their 79-year rivalry, Florida would sometimes beat Kentucky, occasionally even two in a row, and twice even three straight. But never had the streak reached four, not with the Wildcats so strong at home.But the Gators (No. 14 ESPN/USA Today, No. 17 AP) did just that Sunday, ruining Kentucky's Senior Day with a 79-64 victory -- their first win at Rupp Arena since 1998."Beating Kentucky is very exciting for us, especially at Rupp Arena," Florida's Al Horford said. "We just wanted to come out and win. It's big for our program."Florida (24-6, 10-6) clinched second place in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division and a first-round bye in the conference tournament this week. Kentucky (19-11, 9-7), third place in the East, will have to play on the tournament's opening day for the first time since 1979.Florida plays in the SEC quarterfinals Friday night in Nashville, Tenn. Kentucky faces Mississippi on Thursday.Joakim Noah, who had a career night with 26 points and 11 rebounds when the teams last met a month ago, was again Kentucky's biggest problem. Late in the first half, he had more rebounds than the entire Kentucky team."All it is motivation," said Noah, who was booed mercilessly by Kentucky fans. "When we play with that hunger, we're a completely different team."The Wildcats seemed to have turned their season around with an 80-78 victory Wednesday at East champion Tennessee. But Florida, which has three near 7-footers in its lineup, presented matchup problems all afternoon for the much-smaller Wildcats.Joe Crawford was the star for Kentucky with 21 points and Randolph Morris had 14 points. But the Wildcats connected on only 38 percent of their shots and were outrebounded 39-27.Kentucky coach Tubby Smith second-guessed his decision to play a smaller lineup when Morris picked up a third foul."I probably should have stuck with our post guys a little longer," Smith said. "Randolph got in foul trouble early but we should have given him more chances to score. I told the team they need to give me a sign that they are still hungry to play and not going to give up dunks."Florida's 14 turnovers and poor 3-point shooting early were the only things that kept the Wildcats competitive. But Lee Humphrey's back-to-back 3s midway through the second half ignited the Gators, extending the Florida lead to 14. Humphrey led the team with 17 points, including four 3-pointers."It was great to see Lee letting it go and shooting it," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "He's always taken 3s, but the biggest change I saw with him was the confidence."Kentucky was trailing by three with seven minutes left in the first half when Rajon Rondo tapped the ball from a Florida player, dived to the floor after it and called timeout just before he slid out of bounds.Rondo's hustle appeared to wake up the Wildcats. Brandon Stockton's 3-pointer on the next possession tied the game at 24, and another 3 by Ravi Moss four minutes later gave Kentucky its first lead. But Horford's dunk in the closing seconds of the first half made it 34-33 Gators at halftime and started an 13-2 run that would stretch Florida's lead to 10.Smith started his four seniors -- Patrick Sparks, Preston LeMaster, Stockton and Moss. All are from Kentucky but all are smaller guards, allowing bigger Florida to get off to a 5-0 lead before he could make substitutions. It was only Kentucky's fifth Senior Day loss in 86 games.Kentucky hadn't lost four straight to an SEC school since Tennessee accomplished the feat from 1979 to 1980. The Gators' 24 wins ties the 2002-03 team for the most wins in program history heading into postseason play.
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||30-58 (.517)||22-58 (.379)|
|3P Made-Attempted||8-21 (.381)||6-24 (.250)|
|FT Made-Attempted||11-17 (.647)||14-21 (.667)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||18 (0/0)||14 (0/0)|