KENTUCKY 69, UF 67: Gators rally from 14 down, but miss 3 at the buzzer as Wildcats finish 16-0 in the SEC.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 9, 2003
GAINESVILLE -- What Florida forward Anthony Roberson and the Gators wanted entering Saturday's game against Kentucky was a chance.
A chance to redeem themselves against a Kentucky team that embarrassed them in a lopsided win in February. A chance to show a national TV audience they are a better team than before. A chance at a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. And most of all, a legitimate chance to win.
They got it all except the win.
Roberson's long-range shot drew nothing but air at the buzzer, ending an improbable comeback by the third-ranked Gators and giving Kentucky a 69-67 win before a record 12,581 in the O'Connell Center -- including actor Ashley Judd and Tampa Bay Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
"They won this game, but they know it wasn't easy," Roberson said. "In Rupp (Arena), they took a lot of our confidence away so we had a lot to play for. I wanted to let them know it was going to be a fight, no matter what. They know now (if) they play us again, it's going to be a fight."
Kentucky (26-3, 16-0) became the second team to sweep the SEC in the past 47 years. The 1996 Wildcats went 16-0 and went on to win a national championship. The loss snapped Florida's 19-game home winning streak. Kentucky has won six of the past seven meetings and swept the Gators (24-6, 12-4) for the second season in a row.
"We needed a game like this," said Kentucky guard Keith Bogans, who scored 15. "We knew it would be a tough game coming in here, but we played a good Florida team and won. I never imagined we'd go 16-0, people picked us to finish third at the beginning of the season. It's very special."
Forward Matt Bonner, playing with a foot injury in his final home game, kept the Gators in the game with a game-high 25 points and seven rebounds. Senior guards Justin Hamilton and Brett Nelson each scored four, ending their careers with a 56-5 home record.
"I hated to see Matt, Brett and Justin lose tonight," said sophomore center David Lee, who had 13 points and 11 rebounds. "But if you're going to lose on your homecourt, you don't want to get blown out."
Kentucky took a 60-46 lead on a 3-point basket by Bogans with 11:39 left and looked to be in command. But the Gators answered with a 17-6 run to pull within 66-63 with 2:42 left.
Bonner's hook shot with 1:40 remaining pulled the Gators within 66-65. A Kentucky miss by Gerald Fitch and a Bonner rebound gave Florida the ball with 1:14 remaining. But on its next possession, freshman Christian Drejer drove toward the lane as Kentucky forward Marquis Estill stepped in his path, and Drejer was called for the offensive foul, nullifying a Lee field goal with 58 seconds left.
"I walked over and told him thanks because my man had beaten me," said Bogans, who had 15 points and three rebounds. "That was the biggest play of the game. They would have scored and the crowd would have been back in it."
Florida still had chances. After Hayes missed the back end of a one and one, Florida had an opportunity to tie or take the lead, but Drejer's pass was tipped by Hayes, and Drejer was forced to foul Fitch, who hit two free throws for a 69-65 lead. Fitch had a team-high 18 points.
Roberson responded with driving layup that pulled Florida within 69-67 with seven seconds remaining. Bogans missed two free throws, giving Florida a last chance with 5.8 seconds left. Roberson's shot missed completely. He finished with 12 points and two assists.
Florida outscored Kentucky 21-9 in the final 11 minutes, but Kentucky coach Tubby Smith chalked it up to fatigue and the defense of Bonner and Lee, saying he was happy with the way Kentucky held on.
"I am really proud of these guys, they have hung tough all year long and none tougher than today," Smith said. "Florida made us come with our best game, they brought the best game out of us."
Despite the loss, coach Billy Donovan said he is confident as the Gators head into the SEC tournament at New Orleans.
"There was no one that thought we could beat Kentucky or even play with Kentucky," Donovan said. "So if Kentucky is the best team in the country, which everybody says they are and I agree, then we can't be that far behind."