UF's No. 1 priority is 'Cats
Published: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 6, 2012 at 11:12 p.m.
Forget the fact Kentucky is ranked No. 1 in the country.
Who: No. 8 Florida Gators (19-4, 7-1 SEC) at No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (23-1, 9-0 SEC)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
Gainesville TV: ESPN
Gainesville radio: 103.7 FM
Or that the Wildcats have won 15 straight overall and 48 straight at Rupp Arena.
Florida (19-4, 7-1 SEC), which moved up to No. 8 in this week's AP poll, is coming into its matchup at 23-1 Kentucky confident in its ability to play with the Wildcats.
“At the end of the day, they're just another SEC team to us,” Florida junior guard Kenny Boynton said. “No different than Tennessee or South Carolina. I think if we go out there and play the way we've been playing lately, I think we've got a great chance at winning.”
Kentucky has won all nine of its SEC games by an average margin of 17.6 points. The Wildcats are coming off an 86-52 win at South Carolina on Saturday.
“We don't really view it as facing the No. 1 team,” Florida freshman guard Bradley Beal said. “It's just Kentucky. It's a league game so we're just coming in with the mentality that we're going to play our game and focus in on what we need to do.”
Florida is facing a No. 1 team in the regular season for the first time in Billy Donovan's 16 seasons as coach. Donovan is 2-0 against No. 1 teams at Florida, but both came in the NCAA Tournament. Florida upset No. 1 Duke in the Sweet 16 of the 2000 NCAA Tournament and also beat No. 1 Ohio State in the 2007 NCAA Tournament finals to clinch its second straight national title.
Donovan said he doesn't take stock on where a team in ranked.
“You always look at the team because rankings and things like that are going to change throughout the course of the year,” Donovan said.
At this point, Donovan said he is more concerned about UK's starting frontline, which features preseason SEC player of the year Terrence Jones, freshman 6-foot-7 wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and freshman center Anthony Davis, who leads the country in blocked shots at 4.8 per game.
Senior Kentucky 6-8 forward Darius Miller, who dropped 24 points against the Gators last season at Rupp Arena, comes off the bench.
“Whether they're ranked No. 1, No. 5, No. 25, you're still dealing with their personnel and they've got phenomenal personnel,” Donovan said.
Florida has reason to feel confident. The Gators have won a season-high seven straight games, their longest winning streak since starting the 2008-09 season 8-0.
Asked about Boynton's comments about being confident heading into the Kentucky game, Donovan said: “I would be disappointed if he said we're not confident. I think when you're dealing with a good team and good players — I thought Vanderbilt coming in here to our place was confident. I think Kentucky will be confident. I think our guys will be confident.”
The game will feature a contrast in styles, with Florida's perimeter offense against Kentucky's inside presence. The Gators lead the Southeastern Conference in 3-point shooting (40.2 percent) and 3-pointers made (10.5 pg). Kentucky leads the league in blocked shots (9.4 blocks per game), rebounding margin (7.8) and field goal percentage defense (35.8 percent).
“We've got to box out more than anything,” Beal said. “Because they have Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis, Gilchrist who all are capable of getting 10-plus rebounds every night. We have to really focus in and try to crash for offensive rebounds.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari, meanwhile, said he expects the Gators to take 30 3-point attempts tonight.
“If they make 20, we've had a heck of a start,” Calipari said. “Look, you can't stop a team from shooting 3s. You can stop layups. So they're going to get them. You just want to make sure they're guarded."
Boynton said he expects the Wildcats to try to take away the 3-point line.
“We know they are going to try to run us off the line,” Boynton said. “So we've just got to adjust to whatever defense they play.”
Florida has already played in rough road environments this season, losing at Ohio State 81-74 and at Syracuse 72-68.
“They are not going to be awed,” Calipari said. “They're not worried about anything but beating us.”
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Jr. 17.6 ppg, 2.8 apg
G Erving Walker 5-8 Sr. 12.6 ppg, 5.1 apg
G Bradley Beal 6-3 Fr. 14.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg
F Erik Murphy 6-10 Jr. 10.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 So. 10.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg
KENTUCKY PROBABLE STARTERS
G Doron Lamb 6-4 So. 13.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg
G Marquis Teague 6-2 Fr. 9.6 ppg, 4.3 apg
F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 6-7 Fr. 12.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg
F Terrence Jones 6-9 So. 12.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg
C Anthony Davis 6-10 Fr. 13.9 ppg, 10.1 rpg
Notes: Florida is facing Kentucky for the first time this season. Florida is 13-20 against Kentucky under Billy Donovan and 3-12 on the road. ...The Gators have lost four straight at Rupp Arena. Florida's last win at Rupp Arena was on Feb. 4, 2007 (64-61) during the second of its back-to-back national title seasons. … Six of the last eight meetings between Florida and Kentucky have been decided by single digits. … Darius Miller averages 10 points per game coming off the bench for UK.
Three things to watch
Kentucky leads the Southeastern Conference in blocked shots with 9.4 per game. The big reason is Kentucky 6-foot-10 center Anthony Davis, who leads the nation in blocked shots at 4.7 per game. Davis is averaging 7.5 blocks per game and with 116 blocks has already broken Shaquille O'Neal's record for most blocked shots in the SEC as a freshman. “You've got to be smart when you are attacking the basket,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
2. Small forward matchup
Florida's Bradley Beal and Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have emerged as two of the top freshmen in the Southeastern Conference. At 6-3, Beal gives up four inches to the 6-7 Kidd-Gilchrist, but has shown the ability to defend and rebound against bigger forwards this season. Both Beal and Kidd-Gilchrist played together on the USA 18-under men's basketball team and have a strong mutual respect for one another. Donovan doesn't view it as a one-on-one matchup. “We've got to collectively play good defense and be able to provide help in certain areas of the floor,” Donovan said.
The Gators will need a physical effort inside from sophomore center Patric Young. Young returned to the starting lineup against Vanderbilt but picked up two quick first-half fouls and never got into the flow of the game. Young had just two points and four rebounds in 13 minutes. Young has been bothered with ankle tendinitis since early January and is trying to get back into shape after being limited in practices and games. “I think the biggest thing for him is mentally pushing through,” Donovan said.
1. Can Florida generate inside offense and prevent Kentucky from changing the momentum of the game with blocked shots?
2. Which small forward will emerge in the matchup between Bradley Beal and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?
3. Can sophomore center Patric Young play effectively against a physical Kentucky frontline?