Florida Finds Mojo, Wins 6th Straight Over Kentucky
And the "slump?" Either it would end today, or Florida's hopes of repeating as SEC and NCAA Tournament champions could be forgotten.
Well, now we know. The Gators finally took the wakeup call. With a near-record 64% field goal percentage, a re-energized Joakim Noah putting up 17 points -- complete with chest-thumping and primal screams -- Florida exploded in the second half while displaying their "pre-slump" shutdown defense. It was a record-setting victory; it was the first time an SEC team beat Kentucky six times in a row. Ever. Which, of course, is a testament to the power and tradition of the Kentucky basketball program.
The script for Kentucky was familiar, but the news isn't all bad for the Big Blue nation. In the first half, Bobby Perry absolutely lit Florida up as he was left alone while Morris was doubled. He had 16 points in the first twenty minutes. Collectively, Kentucky went toe to toe with the defending national champions until the score was 43-43. But the Gators clamped down and exerted their will in the second half.
Kentucky also suffered from what appeared to be a little "Gator home cookin'," as the officiating appeared to be rather one-sided in Florida's favor. Chris Richard clearly bumped Ramel Bradley out of bounds with 14:08 remaining, but Kentucky didn't get a call. Randy Morris also seemed to get the short end of the "big man foul" stick. It seems hard to imagine a scenario, though, in which the 'Cats could have won this game based on the Gators' lights-out shooting and stellar defense, 'good' officiating or not... but the score might have been a little closer.
With 1:30 remaining and the game well under control for the Gators, the student section began chanting for walk-on Brett Swanson, one of Florida's three graduating seniors. Swanson turned the ball over, giving Bobby Perry his second bucket of the half, but then Donovan ran a little play for his hard-working walkon. Swanson launched a three that rimmed out at the buzzer, but it was a special moment nonetheless.
Florida's hopes for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament are still alive. Meanwhile, it was already predetermined that Kentucky would play on the first day of the SEC Tournament, and they will do so as a #4 seed.
The Gators improve to 26-5 while the 'Cats drop to 20-10.
Fan report: I've watched quite a few Florida-Kentucky games in Gainesville. While the O-Dome was rocking as it always has, there was one noticeable difference from past games.
When Kentucky comes to play your team at home, their fans usually come with them... in a big way. Wildcat fans don't just come to visit, they invade. But this time there was a notable lack of fans wearing blue and white. I could only spot isolated pockets of UK fans, while they usually dominate entire sections of the O'Connell Center. Fan apathy? At Kentucky? Tubby Smith must truly be on thin ice in Lexington.