Vaught's Views: Wildcats swamp Gators on Senior Day

March 08, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - It's really not hard to understand why Kentucky has been able to dominate Florida even though the Gators have had the more highly publicized recruits in recent years.

It's called H-E-A-R-T. Kentucky has it, Florida doesn't.

That was obvious again here Sunday when the Wildcats made sure Senior Day was a festive occasion by beating once-upon-a-time No. 1 Florida 82-62. The Cats got to taste the sweet nectar of another successful Southeastern Conference campaign because they play defense, play together and play hard. The Gators seldom do any of the three.

"I don't know what it was today, but we just didn't go out and get the rebound. We have rebounded well the last few games, but I don't know what happened today," Florida's Matt Walsh said.

All Kentucky did was pound the Gators 53-26 on the boards. Kentucky had almost as many offensive rebounds - 23 - as Florida did total rebounds. UK outscored Florida 19-7 on second chance points and had 40 points in the paint to 14 for Florida.


It was much like the game last year when the Cats embarrassed then-No. 1 Florida 70-55 in a game that was not nearly that close even though Walsh tried to insist Sunday was different.

"Last year the whole team quit, but we all kept fighting today," Walsh said. "I think that's the difference in the two games. Even though we got down big today, we still made a few runs and fought to come back."

If trimming a 23-point lead early in the second half to 14 is Walsh's idea of a comeback, then let him think that. However, this game belonged to Kentucky because of the way the two teams play.

Go back to late in the first half when UK's Kelenna Azubuike got a steal and Florida's Anthony Roberson and Mohammed Abukar stood at midcourt and watched him drive to the other end to make an uncontested dunk shot.

No way would UK coach Tubby Smith have stood for that obvious lack of hustle. In fact, with the Cats leading by 17 points late in the second half, Smith stood and chastised both Erik Daniels and Chuck Hayes for being slow getting out on a Kentucky fast break.

Florida coach Billy Donovan has no answers when it comes to beating UK. He tried a zone defense that made Kentucky go 4-for-18 from 3-point range in the first half, but the Cats usually got the rebound. In the second half, Kentucky went 6-for-12 from 3-point range and hit four straight during a 17-0 run that broke the game open.

Donovan's recruiting classes look good - on paper

Donovan reluctantly admitted that his marquee recruiting classes on paper have not been as good as the lesser publicized classes Smith has had.

"I've done a poor job of balancing our recruiting out," Donovan said. "I have not spread the recruiting out among the classes on this team. Tubby has done that well, and Kentucky has been in the top 10 consistently this season. That's the way you get it done."

Kentucky certainly has been the better team the last two years even though both times the Gators were considered to have the better overall talent.

"I don't think we worry about that, but we do get a little motivated when people talk about somebody having better talent than us," Kentucky senior Gerald Fitch, who had 21 points and five steals, said.

Kentucky's four seniors certainly should know talent. The Cats have won 101 games the last four years, and the last two seasons have gone 29-3 in SEC play.

Sunday was the day for the seniors to shine - and they did. Daniels had 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting along with 14 rebounds and six assists. Cliff Hawkins was just 2-for-9 from the field for five points, but he had nine assists and two steals. Antwain Barbour had 12 points, seven rebounds and one steal.

They all made it through the pregame ceremony without crying, but once the game started they were ready to put on a show. Maybe at times they did a little more "showboating" than Smith wanted, but this was a game UK was not about to lose.

"This was fun," Hawkins said. "I'm happy for everybody on our team. We all had a chance to have fun and let the crowd cheer. We wanted to put on a show, and I think we did."

Smith had his team stay on the court after the game to acknowledge the support the crowd gave UK not only Sunday, but during the season. His players embraced during the playing of "My Old Kentucky Home" and then the seniors went off together with their coach to be interviewed on CBS-TV.

"We do everything as a team," Hawkins said. "This is not about one guy whether it is scoring, playing defense or anything else. We are here for each other."

They are and no matter how much talent the Gators have, they won't beat Kentucky until they learn how to play the same way.

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