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Kentucky 69, Florida 67

March 8, 2003 at 8:52 PM   |   Comments

GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 8 (UPI) -- Gerald Fitch scored 18 points Saturday as the second-ranked Kentucky Wildcats held off a late rally to run the nation's longest winning streak to 20 games with a thrilling 69-67 victory over No. 3 Florida.

Kentucky (26-3, 16-0 SEC East) established a 66-54 advantage on a three-pointer by Fitch with 6:48 remaining before Florida rallied. The Gators held the Wildcats without a basket the rest of the way and scored 11 straight points to get within 66-65 on Matt Bonner's tip-in with 1:40 left to play.

Florida (24-6, 12-4) had a chance to take the lead, but Danish freshman Christian Drejer was whistled for a questionable offensive foul when he collided with Marquis Estill with just under a minute left.

"It's been a real fun run through the conference," said Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith. "I am really proud of these guys. They have hung tough all year long, none tougher than today."

A free throw by Chuck Hayes made it 67-65 and Drejer committed another turnover, leading to Fitch's two foul shots with 12 seconds left for a 69-65 edge.

Gators freshman Anthony Roberson converted a layup to slice the margin to two points and Florida caught a break when the Wildcats' Keith Bogans missed a pair at the line with five seconds to go.

"We had a bit of a wasted possession with Christian and that hurt us a little bit," said Florida Coach Billy Donovan.

The ball ended up in the hands of Roberson, who hit buzzer-beating three-pointers earlier this season in victories over Georgia and Vanderbilt, but Roberson airballed on his attempt from beyond the arc as the Gators' 19-game home streak came to an end.

"I just took it," Roberson said. "I took the shot with confidence and I thought I was going to make it, but I just came up short. It just didn't fall today."

Kentucky became the second team since 1956 to go unbeaten in the SEC, joining the 1995-96 Wildcats' national championship squad.

The loss overshadowed a terrific performance by Bonner, who battled severe foot pain in his final home game. He played against the wishes of the coaching staff, made 11-of-14 shots, and led all scorers with 25 points.

"The bottom line was it hurt," Bonner said. "I think the coaching staff didn't want me to play if it hurt, but it isn't one of those injuries that I am going to make worse by playing. My whole thing was that great players play through pain, and that is what I wanted to do."

"I was so impressed with Matt Bonner," Smith said. "I have enjoyed competing against him and all of the seniors, Nelson and Hamilton, over the past three years."

The contest was the first time the O'Connell Center in Gainesville hosted a pair of top-five teams.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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