Florida's Matt Walsh provided two key three-point plays in the final minute and a half to help the Gators hang on and escape with a close win over Kentucky, 52-51. For Florida the win broke an 8-game losing streak to the Cats.
"We played hard but we didn't play smart," coach Tubby Smith said, "we needed to make better decisions. Seventeen turnovers hurt us. We gave the effort. This loss will give us an urgency for the upcoming tournament."
The Gators scored the first seven points of the game. It would not be until five minutes had passed that reserve guard Ramel Bradley would hit a three to put Kentucky into the scoring column. But the Cats would play tough in a high-paced, but defensive oriented game. The Gators held a slim, one point margin, 26-25 at the half.
Although there was tremendous drama near the end, Kentucky's best chance to win may have slipped away about five and a half minutes into the second half. With the Cats up 32-29 at the 14:35 mark, Florida's Horford is forced into a traveling call. ON its possession the Cats find Sparks in the corner, who takes a wide open three-point shot. The shot would have give the Cats its largest cushion of the afternoon, a six point lead.
The shot would miss, however, and a David Lee scoop shot closed the gap to 32-31. Walsh then stole the ball and feed to Roberson who was fouled by Morris in the act of shooting. Roberson would hit both free throws and Lee Humphrey would add a three to cap a 7-0 run that would turn a 3-point UK lead into a 4-point Gator cushion.
But the game would remain extremely close through the remainder of the contest. At the 10:35 mark the Cats, down by five, 39-34, began to make a move. Chipping away little by little, Kalenna Azibuike began to make his presence felt. In a spirited exchange under the basket, ‘Buike would put back his own miss to draw the Cats within two, 41-39. Thirty seconds later, he would hit a three, giving the Cats a 44-43 edge with 4:22 remaining.
The game would be nip and tuck the rest of the way. With 2:02 remaining, it appeared Kentucky would position itself for its ninth straight win over the Gators. Hayes backed David Lee into the basket and made a soft hook shot over the Florida senior to put Kentucky up by four, 49-45.
Walsh would respond with a hoop and some harm, drawing the Gators to within one, 49-48. Sparks and Walsh would trade three pointers before the game's defining moment would happen.
With UK up by one, Anthony Roberson stripped Patrick Sparks of the ball. Roberson took the loose ball and headed to the basket, and Sparks was called for the reach in.
Roberson canned both charity shots, putting the Gators up by their final margin. Azibuke would miss a three point attempt as time winded down, sealing the Florida victory.
"I thought we gave a better effort in rebounding," Smith said, "that was a positive."
Gators stop 8-game series skid, beat UK 52-51
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