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March 5, 2006

Gators take down Kentucky

Box score

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Joakim Noah had 15 points and 11 rebounds to lead No. 17 Florida past Kentucky 79-64 Sunday, giving the Gators a fourth straight win over the Wildcats for the first time in the 79-year history of the series.

The Gators won for the first time at Rupp Arena since 1998 and clinched second place in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division and a first-round bye in the conference tournament this week. Kentucky, third place in the East, will have to play on the tournament's opening day for the first time since 1979.

Kentucky (19-11, 9-7) lost on Senior Day for only the fifth time in 86 years.

The Wildcats seemed to have turned their season around with an 80-78 victory Wednesday at East champion Tennessee. But Florida (24-6, 10-6), which has three near 7-footers in its lineup, presented matchup problems all afternoon for the much-smaller Wildcats.

Noah, who had a career night with 26 points and 11 rebounds when the teams last met a month ago, was again Kentucky's biggest problem. Late in the first half, he had more rebounds than the entire Kentucky team.

Joe Crawford was the star for the Wildcats with 21 points and Randolph Morris had 14 points. But Kentucky connected on only 38 percent of its shots and was outrebounded 39-27.

Florida's 14 turnovers and poor 3-point shooting early were the only things that kept the Wildcats competitive. But Lee Humphrey's back-to-back 3s midway through the second half ignited the Gators, extending the Florida lead to 14. Humphrey led the team with 17 points, including four 3-pointers.

Kentucky was trailing by three with seven minutes left in the first half when Rajon Rondo tapped the ball from a Florida player, dived to the floor after it and called timeout just before he slid out of bounds.

Rondo's hustle appeared to wake up the Wildcats. Brandon Stockton's 3-pointer on the next possession tied the game at 24, and another 3 by Ravi Moss four minutes later gave Kentucky its first lead.

But Al Horford's dunk just before halftime made it 34-33 Gators at halftime and started an 11-2 run that would stretch Florida's lead to 10 early in the second half.

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith started his four seniors - Patrick Sparks, Preston LeMaster, Brandon Stockton and Moss. All are Kentucky natives but all also are short guards, allowing bigger Florida to get off to a 5-0 lead before he could make substitutions.

Kentucky hadn't lost four straight to an SEC school since Tennessee accomplished the feat from 1979 to 1980. The Gators' 24 wins ties the 2002-03 team for the most wins in program history heading into postseason play.

With a victory, Florida plays in the SEC quarterfinals Friday night in Nashville. Kentucky faces Mississippi in the first round Thursday.

For more coverage of the Florida Gators, check out GatorBet.net.
For more coverage of the Kentucky Wildcats, check out CatsPause.com.

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