UF MEN'S BASKETBALL
Florida seeks rare win at Rupp Arena
Published: Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 14, 2014 at 8:55 p.m.
Rupp Arena is always a tough place to play. On Saturday night, it figures to be even tougher than usual for the visiting team.
Who: No. 3 Florida Gators (22-2, 11-0 SEC) vs. No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats (19-5, 9-2)
When: 9 p.m.
Where: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
Kentucky, young and talented and restless, has gotten on a roll and the Wildcats and their fans likely will work themselves into quite a frenzy at the prospect of playing the No. 3 team in the nation, the only team ahead of them in the SEC standings.
If that's not enough, ESPN's GameDay will be there, adding to the loud, electric, championship game-like atmosphere.
But don't expect the Florida Gators to be intimidated or overwhelmed by the bright lights and Big (Blue) city.
This is a veteran Florida team, led by four seniors, that has won 16 games in a row and, with experience, is quite familiar (and comfortable) with the potential storm they will be facing tonight.
“This team has been through all that,” senior center Patric Young said. “We're pretty experienced. We don't really care too much about what the media says or what's going on outside our team. We just care about what goes on between the lines. Wins. Just getting it done.
“Both teams are going to face some type of adversity. With our experience, we handle it a lot better than most teams. We stay pretty composed. We know it's a long game, that teams go on runs.
“We do a good job of staying connected to one another and lift each other up and stay focused on the task at hand. Doing that, we're able to get out of those ruts pretty quick.”
In terms of Rupp, the Gators are in one of those ruts. They haven't won there since 2007. They came close a year ago, but fell short (61-57) after going scoreless over the game's final 7:38.
As many games as these seniors have won in their UF careers, they have never experienced a win at Rupp Arena.
“We let one slip out of our hands last year,” Young said. “We definitely had an opportunity to win that one. It will be special to finally get one and not go my whole career not winning there, especially how well we're playing right now.
“We're all just really excited for the opportunity. Nobody on this roster has won at Rupp. That's going to be really inspiring — and having another opportunity to play ball and get a win and stay in first place in the SEC.
“There is enough motivation for us to go in there and get it done.”
It probably won't be easy. But then it never is at Rupp, where the Wildcats have won 22 in a row. The Gators will be facing a freshman-laden UK team that has won 11 of its last 13 games and four in a row.
“Probably from top to bottom, (Kentucky) is the most talented (in the SEC), if not in the country,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “Every position on the floor. They've got scoring ability, they've got size, they've got athleticism.”
UF has a history of losing at Rupp. The Gators also had a similar problem at Tennessee, but reversed the trend with a big win Tuesday night.
“Against Tennessee, Patric and those guys won for the first time since their freshman year,” Donovan said. “You wanted to see how they respond to that situation.
“Rupp has always been a very challenging and difficult place to play, so certainly you want to see how your team responds and deals with those things.
“I think the same thing can be said for just about every game you go into. You're going to learn something about your team, regardless of the game or who you are playing. Every game offers a chance to learn and grow.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 12.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 13.0 ppg, 3.7 apg
F Casey Prather 6-6 Sr 15.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 5.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 10.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg
KENTUCKY PROBABLE STARTERS
G Aaron Harrison 6-6 Fr. 13.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg
G Andrew Harrison 6-6 Fr. 11.0 ppg, 3.5 apg
G James Young 6-6 Fr. 14.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg
F Julius Randle 6-9 Fr. 15.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg
C Dakari Johnson 7-0 Fr. 4.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg
Notes: Florida coach Billy Donovan is 14-24 all-time against Kentucky and 3-14 at Rupp Arena. … Donovan is 2-8 head-to-head against Kentucky coach John Calipari. … Florida's 16-game winning streak is one shy of the school record of 17 — done three times, most recently from Dec. 6 2006 to Feb. 14, 2007. … Florida's 22-2 record is its second-best all-time, behind just the 2006-07 national title team, which started 24-2. … The Gators enter the game with the Wildcats first in the SEC and sixth in the nation in scoring defense, giving up 57.9 points per game. … Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin is coming off a career-high 21-point performance against Tennessee. Wilbekin is averaging 18.7 points and 4.3 assists over his last three games. … Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II ranks third in the SEC in 3-point shooting percentage at 42.8 percent. … Kentucky is one win shy of its 58th 20-win season in program history. … The Wildcats are 81-2 at home (.976) under Calipari.
Three things to watch
1. Backcourt battle
Look for Florida to pressure Kentucky's all-freshman backcourt of Andrew and Aaron Harrison early and see how they respond. Both Kentucky guards are 6-foot-6, but neither have great court vision. Kentucky freshman guard James Young is capable of getting on a roll shooting-wise but went just 1 of 10 from the floor against Auburn. Young is shooting just 33.1 percent from 3-point range this season. Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin is playing at a high level of late, and sophomore guard Michael Frazier II (42.8 percent from 3-point range) must stay assertive even if his shots don't fall early.
2. Containing Randle
Kentucky freshman forward Julius Randle has at times lived up to his billing as preseason SEC player of the year. Randle is ninth in the SEC in scoring (15.8 ppg), second in rebounding (9.9 rpg) and has posted 12 double-doubles this season. But Randle has been frustrated by double teams this season and prone to turnovers (71) trying to spin his way to the basket. “Julius is a great passer, literally, a great (passer), just not a willing passer right now,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “So what happens is by the time he passes it, it's getting tipped or he's getting tipped. He's learning.” The Gators need to keep Randle off the offensive glass and limit his second-chance scoring opportunities.
3. Bench play
Both Florida and Kentucky are deep enough to withstand foul trouble. So if the game is called tightly, it could come down to which bench performs better. The Gators outscored Tennessee 14-6 off the bench in their Tuesday night win at Thompson-Boling Arena. The game will feature two of the top sixth men in the SEC — Kentucky forward Alex Poythress (6.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Florida forward Dorian Finney-Smith (9.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg). Kentucky sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein (3.0 blocks per game) and Florida freshman point guard Kasey Hill (3.2 apg) also could play important roles in the game.
— Kevin Brockway
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