Fab freshmen have UK back on top


Published: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 12:36 a.m.

I remember this.

I remember those days when the O'Connell Center was invaded by a Big Blue Army. When they would be scattered among the Gator faithful in perfect symmetry to sound like twice as many. When they weren't reserved to that one corner of the arena but somehow found tickets that most Florida fans covet.

I remember this.

Back before Florida won seven straight at one point. Back before Florida won five in a row over the Wildcats at home. Back before John Calipari. It was like this all the time when Kentucky came to Gainesville. Florida would fight and scratch and stay in the game for as long as the Gators could. Every once in awhile they'd pull off a stunner, but usually came away with a loss.

I remember this.

When Kentucky's players who should be playing 10 minutes a game were playing 10 minutes a game and Florida's were playing 35 minutes. When Kentucky would substitute and you'd hardly notice a difference. When Kentucky was bigger, stronger and -- oh my goodness -- faster.

This was the way it used to be when Florida met Kentucky. There was a talent gap that Billy Donovan eventually erased. There was a sense of entitlement that Donovan was able to overcome. There was a culture he was able to change.

But it's back. Kentucky is back.

Welcome back. Now, can we see if Lane Kiffin can take Calipari to USC?

I said when Kentucky hired the slick one that everybody else was playing for second in the SEC. On Tuesday night, we saw why. The Wildcats came in here unbeaten but had looked vulnerable, often playing down to the level of the competition. And their only true road game had been at Indiana.

Against Florida, they looked vulnerable again. But they won. Again.

A team with this much talent should play better, but can you be better than perfect?

In one of the toughest arenas in the game, Kentucky took Florida's adrenaline-fueled punch early and it's counter-punching late. But in the end, they were just too good.

There was that glimmer of hope when Florida tied the game at 72. There was a time when you would have thought it was the middle of the comeback and not the end. I remember that time. But this rally was snuffed out by a team that was more physical and much faster. John Wall and Eric Bledsoe may be the fastest backcourt tandem I've seen on the O-Dome floor.

"Imagine that, a freshman," said Calipari. "He has no idea what he's doing and he goes for 25 (points)."

In fact, the freshmen for Kentucky scored 63 points on the night.

So Florida is 0-2 in SEC play, loser of five of its last eight and it should be six of eight. A season that started with promise is at a crossroads just two games into conference play. These Gators played hard but eventually reverted back to their Vanderbilt defense, which would be to say none at all. They have given up 90 points in the paint the last two games and Kentucky shot 59 percent in the second half.

"Our margin for error is a lot different than their margin for error," Donovan said.

And it happened so suddenly. Florida passed Kentucky gradually. Kentucky passed Florida with a burst.

There were a lot of things to like about the Gators Tuesday night. Ervin Walker was so hot Calipari had to switch John Wall over to cover him. Alex Tyus had a nice night.

But in the end, Kentucky is bigger, better and badder than Florida right now.

I remember this.

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