COLUMBUS, Ohio (Ticker) -- Florida A&M showed it had more than a famous band before Kentucky finally showed its basketball pedigree.
Gerald Fitch scored 20 of his 26 points in the first half as the top-seeded Wildcats withstood a game effort from the 16th-seeded Rattlers for a 96-76 victory in the first round of the St. Louis Region.
Florida A&M (15-17), the only squad in the 65-team field with a losing record, needed to win Tuesday's play-in game against Lehigh to earn a date with Kentucky, which owns seven national championships. But the Rattlers, who have a renowned marching band, turned the contest into a track meet.
"Each time we took a timeout, we kept saying, 'We're not going away. It's like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who are these guys?'" colorful Rattlers coach Mike Gillespie said. "Our guys believed we were going to win the game and I know you think when I say those things to you, that's not true. But after we won in Tuesday night's game, our guys - they really truly believed that they could win this game."
Fitch's hot hand helped Kentucky (27-4) put up 60 points at halftime. The problem was that Florida A&M rode the nation's leader in 3-point baskets - Terrence Woods - to stay within 60-52 at intermission.
After a free throw by the Wildcats' Chuck Hayes opened the second-half scoring, DeMarcus Wilkins and Woods each nailed 3-pointers to pull A&M within 61-58 with 17:35 left. However, that was Woods' last basket and the Rattlers missed a pair of chances to tie.
The Wildcats embarked on a 12-4 run, building a 73-62 advantage on Fitch's layup with 12 minutes to go, and the lead never dipped below nine.
"They (Florida A&M) were knocking down shots and getting open for open shots," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "They had a great game plan, they were executing their game plan."
Woods scored 20 of his 24 points in the first half as the Wildcats shut him down late. The Tennessee transfer left with 41 seconds to go and received a nice hand from the partisan Kentucky crowd.
"We knew it was going to be a hard fight," Woods said. "I think we kind of had them at our pace. We like to go up and down."
The Rattlers shot an astounding 58 percent (21-of-38) in the first half before cooling to 32 percent (9-of-28) after the break against one of the best defensive teams in the nation.
"We didn't really have any control of the tempo in the first half, but in the second half, we kind of gained that control and that's when we were able to regroup and play Kentucky basketball," Fitch said.
All five starters reached double figures for Kentucky, which eventually used its superior size and skill to turn it into a rout. Kelenna Azubuike's dunk with 4:59 remaining was the Wildcats' last basket and opened a 92-69 bulge, their largest lead.
Still, Florida A&M earned the respect of many with a fearless display in the first half. The Rattlers nailed nine of their 3-pointers before intermission and were buoyed by the antics of the fiery Gillespie.
But hot shooting and a fired-up coach only goes so far against Kentucky, a top seed for the second straight year. Erik Daniels was 8-of-12 from the floor for 18 points and Cliff Hawkins added 14.
"They took it to us the first half," Smith said. "Coach Gillespie and staff had a good game plan and they came ready to play."
Kentucky will take on Alabama-Birmingham in the second round.