Monday, March 15, 2004
SEC tourney goes routinely for Wildcats
No. 8 Kentucky 89, Florida 73
By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ATLANTA - The game was just six seconds old when Gerald Fitch's 3-pointer fell, and he couldn't resist a wide grin.
"They had to know," Kentucky teammate Chuck Hayes said of Florida's players, "it was going to be a long day."
If there's a sure thing in Southeastern Conference basketball, it's Kentucky beating Florida. Nearly as certain is UK winning the league tournament.
So there was little surprise Sunday in No. 8 UK's 89-73 victory over Florida in the SEC Tournament final at the Georgia Dome. Or in the Wildcats' decision to bypass cutting down the nets, which they never do for this championship.
Kentucky's Gerald Fitch, left, Erik Daniels, center, and Cliff Hawkins, right, celebrate with the Southeastern Conference Championship Tournament trophy.
"This isn't anything new for us," senior Erik Daniels said. "Our ultimate goal is to win the national championship."
Toward that end, Daniels wrote "6 mo" on the locker-room blackboard, a reference to how many more victories UK craves. He also wrote "Carpe diem."
UK has seized the day throughout its nine-game winning streak, and Sunday's outcome was a mirror image of the 20-point victory over Florida a week prior.
History had suggested a mismatch. This is UK's 25th title in the 43 SEC tourneys in which it has competed. It is 32-3 with 10 titles in this event over the past 13 seasons. Florida, by contrast, has never won this tournament.
The Wildcats (24-6) have won seven straight meetings with Florida and nine of the last 10.
They built a 15-point first-half lead Sunday despite sitting starters Daniels and Cliff Hawkins most of the half with two fouls apiece. The lead peaked at 25 points with five minutes left.
The story Sunday was Hayes totaling career highs of 23 points and eight assists, along with eight rebounds. Teammates Fitch and Kelenna Azubuike added 18 points apiece.
The more telling statistic is that four Wildcats had 20-point games in the three games of this tournament, and a fifth, Azubuike, was steady enough to make the all-tournament team. Azubuike scored in double figures all three days and at one point Sunday rang up 13 consecutive points for UK.
"Each player can get it going on any given night," Fitch said.
UK has five scorers averaging in double figures. It hasn't finished a season with five double-figure scorers since 1990-91.
"With Kentucky, it's pick your poison," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
UK's passing ability out of the post deterred Donovan from double-teaming there. Hayes averaged nine points in two prior meetings with Florida (20-10).
"In the past game, Chuck Hayes had trouble finishing over the top of our 'bigs,' but tonight those shots were falling for him," Florida's David Lee said.
UK again throttled Florida on the boards, 40-27. It totaled 19 assists - including 12 in the first half on 16 baskets - with just seven turnovers. Florida guard Anthony Roberson, who scored a career-high 35 points the day prior, was held to nine Sunday.
Team rebounds - 1.
Team rebounds - 5.
3-pointers - UF 10-22 (Walsh 2-5, Moss 1-1, Roberson 3-11, Al-Kaleem 3-4, Appleby 1-1), UK 7-19 (Hawkins 1-3, Fitch 2-8, Azubuike 2-8, Moss 1-1, Cote 1-2, Barbour 0-1). Technicals - None. Officials - Patillo, Clougherty, Greene. Attendance - N/A.
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THIS WEEK'S SPORTS POLL
Which Xavier win was bigger: UC when the Bearcats were ranked No. 1 or No. 1 St. Joseph's?