Kentucky pulls away from Florida A&M in second half

March 19, 2004|TOM WITHERS

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Kentucky may have never felt so blue after a win in the NCAA tournament.

Gerald Fitch scored 26 points and the top-seeded Wildcats advanced to the second round with a 96-76 victory Friday night over 16th-seeded and fearless Florida A&M in the St. Louis Regional.

It was anything but easy for the Wildcats (27-4), who didn't lock up their 13th straight first-round win until midway through the second half against the Rattlers (15-17).

The Rattlers were within 10 at 77-67 with 9:41 remaining before Kentucky embarked on a 15-2 run that gave them some breathing room and made the final score more lopsided than the game really was.


Florida A&M's loss dropped No. 16 seeds to 0-80 since the tournament expanded in 1985, but the Rattlers made it fun for their fans - and TV viewers - as long as they could.

They may have also given hope to any team who might face Kentucky in the upcoming rounds of the tourney. Until they were forced to, the Wildcats looked soft on defense, forcing coach Tubby Smith to do far more yelling than he ever imagined.

Chuck Hayes had 12 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists for Kentucky, the tourney's top seed for the second straight year and ninth time since 1979.

Terrence Woods finished with 24 points and Demarcus Wilkins 16 for the Rattlers, who stayed close by making eight 3-pointers in the first half and then hit just three after halftime.

After his team beat Lehigh in the tournament's play-in game earlier this week, Florida A&M coach Mike Gillespie kidded that it would be a moral victory just to hold the Wildcats to under 50 points in a half.

He didn't say anything about his team scoring 50, though.

Woods' fifth 3-pointer leaves Florida A&M just eight behind at halftime

Making eight 3-pointers, shooting 55 percent overall and taking it right at Kentucky, Florida A&M only trailed 60-52 at halftime when Woods hit his fifth 3-pointer with 13 seconds left.

When the horn sounded, Gillespie pumped his fist and screamed in the direction of the Rattlers' cheering section, which was celebrating as if the game had ended.

Kentucky's fans, meanwhile, were wondering when the Wildcats were going to start playing defense and turning the ball over.

It was the most points Kentucky had given up in a first half this season, and the most the Wildcats had scored.

Woods had 20 points in the first half for the Rattlers, who backed by their renowned "Marching 100" band, had the Wildcats, well, rattled in the opening five minutes.

Florida A&M forced Kentucky into four uncharacteristic turnovers in the first 4:19, and when Woods drilled his first 3-pointer from the corner, the Rattlers were up 16-15.

Those not wearing some shade of blue in sold out Nationwide Arena seemed stunned by A&M's fearlessness and talent.

Fitch calmed things down for the Wildcats by hitting two straight 3-pointers, Antwain Barbour made another 3 and Sheray Thomas scored on a layup as Kentucky opened a 30-20 lead.

But the Rattlers weren't done. Woods scored six straight points as they cut it to 52-49 before Cliff Hawkins and Fitch made 3s in an 8-0 breakaway that gave Kentucky its largest lead at 60-49.

However, Woods' last 3 sent the Rattlers to the locker room believing anything was possible. And after Florida A&M hit two 3s to open the second half, Kentucky started to think so, too.

FLORIDA A&M (15-17) - Ayodele 2-3 1-2 6, Harper 6-8 0-0 13, Wilkins 7-18 0-1 16, Tate 4-6 0-0 9, Woods 8-20 2-5 24, White 1-6 1-2 3, Henderson 0-0 0-0 0, Kelly 1-2 0-0 2, Zamore 0-1 1-2 1, Sams 0-1 0-0 0, Russell 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 30-66 5-12 76.

KENTUCKY (27-4) - Daniels 8-12 2-3 18, Hayes 5-8 2-5 12, Hawkins 5-9 0-0 14, Fitch 10-17 2-2 26, Azubuike 5-6 2-3 14, Moss 0-0 0-0 0, Stockton 0-1 0-0 0, Carrier 0-1 0-0 0, Obrzut 0-0 2-2 2, LeMaster 0-1 0-2 0, Cote 0-1 0-0 0, Perry 0-1 0-0 0, Alleyne 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas 1-2 1-2 3, Barbour 1-3 4-4 7. Totals 35-62 15-23 96.

Halftime-Kentucky 60-52. 3-point goals-Florida A&M 11-30 (Woods 6-14, Wilkins 2-9, Harper 1-1, Ayodele 1-2, Tate 1-2, White 0-2), Kentucky 11-28 (Hawkins 4-8, Fitch 4-10, Azubuike 2-2, Barbour 1-3, Carrier 0-1, Cote 0-1, Daniels 0-1, Perry 0-1, Stockton 0-1). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Florida A&M 29 (Harper 7), Kentucky 42 (Hayes 11). Assists-Florida A&M 13 (Tate 5), Kentucky 23 (Hayes 8). Total fouls-Florida A&M 19, Kentucky 15. A-NA.

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