Florida 53, No. 3 Kentucky 52
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Matt Walsh heaved the ball into the stands, David Lee jumped onto a courtside table and Anthony Roberson ripped off his jersey.
Florida’s “Big Three” celebrated their first victory over Kentucky like no other.
“That was four years in the making right there,” Lee said.
Roberson scored 21 points, including two free throws with 15 seconds remaining, and the Gators upset the third-ranked Wildcats 53-52 on Sunday.
Florida ended an eight-game losing streak against the Southeastern Conference bully and probably ended the Wildcats’ hopes of getting a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
“It was the greatest win of my life,” Walsh said.
Roberson, the league’s leading scorer, stripped the ball from Patrick Sparks with about 12 seconds to play, trailing 52-51. Sparks fouled Roberson as he headed the other way. Roberson stepped to the line and calmly made both ends of the 1-and-1.
Kentucky (23-4, 14-2) still had a chance to win it, but Kelenna Azubuike’s 3-pointer just before the buzzer bounced off the left side of the rim and into Walsh’s hands.
Then the celebration began.
Florida (20-7, 12-4) last beat the Wildcats in March 2001. The Gators have been close since, losing the last three at home by a total of seven points, but they hadn’t been able to get over the hurdle.
The “Big Three” changed that Sunday.
Lee, the team’s lone senior who was honored before his final home game, had lost all eight previous meetings against Kentucky. Walsh and Roberson had been 0-6.
“It’s taken three years for me to win this on my home floor,” Roberson said.
Walsh, Roberson and Lee combined for 43 of Florida’s 53 points. Walsh and Lee each had 11. Lee added 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
“It was just an exciting victory,” said Lee, who also removed his shirt in the postgame revelry. “I would have liked for it to not be so close. It would have been easier if we had won by 50 and gone out with 4 minutes to play and gotten everybody in. But any time you get a win against a Top Five team like Kentucky, as great as their tradition is, it just says a lot about our team.”
Chuck Hayes led the Wildcats with 11 points. Azubuike and Randolph Morris each had nine.
It was just the fifth loss in the last 53 conference games for Kentucky.
“Florida made big plays down the stretch,” Wildcats coach Tubby Smith said. “That’s what it’s all about. In a tight, tough game like this, you’ve got to make plays. They did and we didn’t.”
Florida trailed 49-45 with about 2 minutes to play when Walsh made two key baskets. He grabbed a rebound off a miss by Sparks and made the layup on the other end. Sparks also fouled Walsh on the play, and Walsh converted the three-point play.
After Sparks answered with a 3-pointer that made it 52-48, Walsh hit a 3 from well beyond the top of the circle.
The outcome didn’t change either team’s seeding for next week’s SEC tournament, but it could drastically alter their seeding in the NCAA tournament. Kentucky should fall in the polls, and even if the Wildcats win a third straight SEC tournament, it might not be enough to claim one of the top four seeds.
Florida, meanwhile, could return to The Associated Press’ Top 25 for the first time since late November and probably will improve its NCAA seeding.
“It’s a relief, but we’ve got to move on from this one,” Roberson said. “It’s a confidence builder. That’s what we’ve got to use it as.”