Late run gives Cats 89-77 win over Gators


Kentucky junior Patrick Patterson hugs freshman John Wall after the No. 2 defeated the Florida Gaters 89-77 on Tuesday, Jan 12, 2009 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The will to win made its way to the South.

After letting a 15-point lead with 14:30 to go in the game dwindle to a tie, the Cats used a 10-1 run to put away Florida 89-77 in front of a hostile home crowd.

“Again, you get up 15 and all of a sudden we’re tied,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “At some point this season we’ve got to get people that will keep them down or you’re going to be losing games and you’ll go on a run and not lose one, you’ll lose two, three and four.”

The Cats (17-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) struggled to find their shot early in game, not getting on the board until 4:09 into the game on a coast to coast drive from freshman guard Eric Bledsoe. The Gators (11-5, 0-2 SEC) weren’t clicking on all cylinders either, and couldn’t get a convincing lead on UK early.

The Cats finally found their offensive stroke midway through the first half after a stern talking to from UK head coach John Calipari. The Cats took a 15-13 lead  before Florida went on a quick six-point run to prompt a Calipari timeout. Out of the break, the Cats went to their two freshman guards, Bledsoe and John Wall. The tandem scored four straight baskets to give the Cats a four-point advantage and force Florida to call timeout.

Freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins picked up his second foul with 4:04 to go in the first half. 23 seconds later, Wall picked up his second foul on a charge call, but the Cats hardly lost a beat.

Similar to the Cats’ only other true road game on the season, a 90-73 win over Indiana, Bledsoe found his shooting stroke and led the Cats on the offensive end of the floor. Bledsoe scored 15 of his 25 points in the first half.

With Cousins also sitting on the bench, fellow freshman forward Daniel Orton filled in. The 6-foot-10 big man blocked three Florida shots within a 12-second span that brought the UK bench to its feet and the nearby fans to duck basketballs flying into the stands.

“(Orton) was probably the difference in the game,” Calipari said. “Daniel Orton, if he’ll do the things he did today, it’s hard to beat us … I hugged him after the game because it’s what I’ve been begging, begging him to tell him that you are the difference in our team. The other guys are all what they are. You are the guy.”

Cousins picked up his third foul just 1:35 into the second half after the Cats began the half with their original starting lineup of Cousins, Bledsoe, Wall, Darius Miller and Patrick Patterson. Orton came back right where he left off though, and picked up a rebound and altered numerous Florida shots before picking up a third foul of his own.

Florida sophomore guard Erving Walker tried to get the Gators back in the game, scoring eight straight points for the home team in one minute. Walker’s spark fueled an 11-4 Gator run that trimmed UK’s 15-point lead to six.

Walker wasn’t done there. After the Cats stretched the lead back to nine, Walker responded with back-to-back 3-pointers and a near full court pass to junior forward Vernon Macklin for the breakaway jam to cut the UK lead to 68-66 with eight minutes to play.

After exchanging baskets on the next four possessions, Macklin tied the game up at 72 with an easy layup.

The Cats found their killer instinct shortly after that though, going on a 12-1 run to ice the game.

“We just like – ‘What happened? Where are we? Why did that happen all in the last three or four minutes?’ ” Calipari said. “We just have to figure out how we can tap into that and say ‘This is who we have to be, and how we have to play.’ “