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Updated: Sunday, March 13, 2005 5:03 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(25) Florida 70, (4) Kentucky 53

ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Just when it seemed like Kentucky was headed to yet another Southeastern Conference tournament championship, Matt Walsh sparked Florida to a historic win.

Walsh drilled three 3-pointers in a span of just over two minutes as the 25th-ranked Gators claimed their first SEC tournament title with a 70-53 victory over the fourth-ranked Wildcats.

The loss likely ended Kentucky's hopes for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats (25-5) were seeking their third straight SEC tournament title, seventh in nine years and 26th overall.

Florida (23-7) had been 0-4 in SEC finals dating to 1934, including an 89-73 defeat to Kentucky in last year's title game. The Gators gained momentum for the tournament with a 53-52 win over the Wildcats a week ago in the regular-season finale.

"We had to go through Mississippi State, Alabama and Kentucky," Gators coach Billy Donovan said. "We didn't have an easy road. I'm just proud to be a part of it. It's been a long time coming."

Sluggish in the first half, Kentucky used a 15-1 spurt to grab a 44-37 lead on Patrick Sparks' drive with 11:45 remaining.

But Walsh's 3-pointer on the other end ignited an 11-0 run that extended to 21-2 as the Wildcats collapsed. The junior forward scored 19 of his season-high 26 points in the second half and was named tournament MVP.

"We started executing our screens," said Walsh, who was 4-for-7 from behind the arc in the second half. "Anthony (Roberson) made some good passes and put me in position. I do the easy part. They get me good looks."

"I told our guys that they needed to focus and pay more attention to details and that they needed to fight," Donovan added. "We were fortunate to be able to get Matt Walsh off screens and our bigs did a good job."

Walsh missed his attempt for a fourth straight 3-pointer, but an offensive rebound allowed Florida to retain possession, and Roberson hit a wide-open 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it 54-46 with 7:50 remaining, stunning the partisan Kentucky crowd.

"We didn't stop anything on Walsh," Kentucky forward Kelenna Azubuike said. "He hit a couple of shots in a row that got them off to a run there and we were never able to recover."

Kentucky went more than eight minutes with just two points as the Gators extended their advantage to 58-46 on Corey Brewer's layup with 4:29 to go.

"Even when we made the run (to take the lead), we were still making mistakes," said Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith, who lost for only the fifth time in the SEC tournament. I thought we took some ill-advised shots. We took the lead and shot selection became a problem."

Florida started strong and took a 20-9 advantage in the game's first nine minutes. The Gators outrebounded the Wildcats, 15-3, during that span.

"We just did a poor job of boxing out," Kentucky forward Chuck Hayes said. "That's been our Achilles heel. They were sending four guys at a time (into the paint). They just wanted it more."

"We knew that the big keys going into the game were transition defense and controlling the boards," added Florida forward David Lee, who tied a career-high with 17 rebounds. "We knew we had to shore those areas up."

Azubuike scored 17 points for the Wildcats, who were outscored, 30-9, in the final 11:45.


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