Wildcats confident in their chances against Gators

March 14, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

ATLANTA - Florida has won six of its last seven games, including Saturday's 91-69 decision over Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals.

Still, Kentucky players feel like they know what it will take to beat the Gators in today's championship game.

"The scouting report last time was just to play them tough and that they would eventually back down," said Kentucky point guard Cliff Hawkins. "I don't think what we do will change a lot."

Kentucky has beaten the Gators six straight times and eight of the last nine going into today's game.

The Wildcats continued their domination of Florida with two regular-season wins. Kentucky ended the first game with an 11-0 run and got a key steal from Cliff Hawkins to win 68-65 at Florida on Feb. 3. One week ago in its Senior Day game in Rupp Arena, the Cats went 6-for-12 from 3-point range in the first half and used a 17-0 run early in the second half to coast to an 82-62 victory.


"We have pretty much owned them the last few meetings," Kentucky's Chuck Hayes said after the Cats' 78-63 victory over South Carolina in Saturday's first game. "I know they will really want to beat us, but we just have a little more experience than they do. They have shooters and athletes, but our experience and execution just seems to take over against them."

Fatigue could also be a problem for the Gators, who needed an overtime to eliminate Alabama in a game that didn't end until almost 1 a.m. Saturday. The Wildcats were also back in their hotel having dinner before the Gators finished beating Vanderbilt in the semifinals.

"I thought at times our guys looked like they were in slow motion, but we kept battling and won. We'll just have to find more energy for tomorrow," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.

"The extra rest is a big plus," Kentucky assistant coach Dave Hobbs said. "It's not that you need extra time to prepare. When you get to the finals against somebody you've already played twice, everybody knows what to expect. But fatigue can be a factor."

So could shooting.

No opponent has shot 50 percent against UK

The Gators were 32-for-51 from the field Saturday, a 63 percent mark. No opponent has shot 50 percent against UK this season.

Florida guards Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh combined for 55 points against Vanderbilt. Roberson was 12-for-15 from the field, including 7-for-8 on 3-pointers, and had 35 points. Walsh was 8-for-11, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range, and had 20 points and six assists.

"They just made a bunch of shots," Hobbs said. "They were really aggressive offensively. We can't allow them to make 13 3-point shots like they did today. We certainly can't let Roberson go off like he did. We better find a way to keep the ball out of his hands."

Roberson was 14-for-31 from the field in the two games against UK and had 41 points.

"He's a great player, but we take pride in our defense," said Kentucky's Gerald Fitch, who had 24 points Saturday in the win over South Carolina. "We are not going to let one player beat us."

Still, Roberson insisted he's looking forward to his first SEC title game appearance even if Kentucky is the opponent.

"I think it will be fun," Roberson said. "Kentucky played real hard the last time (against Florida). I think this will be another day. We are going to feel like we have nothing to lose and play our hearts out. But we definitely think we can win the game."

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