LEXINGTON, Ky. — Ramel Bradley stood on the UK symbol at center court at Rupp Arena, arms over his head, hands making the diamond symbol that has become his signature celebration during his career at Kentucky.
For a moment the senior guard remained motionless, soaking in the crowd one last time before being mobbed by teammates after Kentucky held off Florida 75-70 Sunday.
It was the kind of jubilation that seemed far-fetched when Kentucky stumbled three months ago. But after scoring 14 and handing out seven assists to help the Wildcats snap a seven-game losing streak to the Gators, Bradley is pretty confident Kentucky can keep another streak intact: making the NCAA Tournament for the 17th straight season.
"We should definitely be in," Bradley said. "There is no doubt. There is no doubt in my mind."
The Wildcats (18-11, 12-4 SEC) won for the sixth time in seven games, the last two without injured star forward Patrick Patterson, to bolster a tournament resume that suddenly doesn't look so bad.
The opposite is true of the two-time defending champion Gators (21-10, 8-8), who lost for the seventh time in 10 games and will likely need to do well in the SEC tournament to secure a spot in the field of 65.
"We certainly had a lot of lapses in the second half," said Florida coach Billy Donovan, who was booed briefly during pregame introductions, a reminder that Kentucky fans haven't forgotten Donovan's decision to remain at Florida rather than replace former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith last spring.
The Wildcats hired Billy Gillispie instead, and after a rocky fall that included losses to Gardner-Webb and San Diego, Kentucky finds itself among the hottest teams in the country.
"This is one of the best teams anywhere right now because of their toughness," Gillispie said. "This team is peaking at the right time."
St. Petersburg's Marreese Speights led the Gators with 20 points and eight rebounds and Nick Calathes had 16 points and six assists.
Joe Crawford added 16 points for Kentucky in his final game at Rupp Arena, and Derrick Jasper had 14 as the Wildcats shot 58 percent from the field, hardly looking like the offensively challenged team that built its record on gritty defense rather than clutch shotmaking.
"We needed every shot today," Crawford said. "We have a lot of confidence right now and the season is not over for us."
Kentucky took control during a 27-11 surge in the second half in which the Wildcats sank six 3-pointers, some coming from unlikely places.
Jasper, hardly the most confident 3-point shooter on the team, hit three 3s during the run. The first was an awkward bank shot from the corner, the second a line drive from the top of the key, the result of a desperate heave as the shot clock expired.
Little-used forward A.J. Stewart added an 18-foot jumper that hit the back of the rim, bounced high above the backboard and settled through the net. By the time Jasper hit his third 3-pointer of the run, a more conventional swish, Kentucky led 60-44 with 8:41 left.