2/6: No. 7 Florida set to face No. 1 Kentucky

Set to play their third game in six days and square off against their third top three-ranked opponent of the season on the road in the No. 1/1 Kentucky Wildcats, the No. 7/8 Florida Gators and head coach Billy Donovan met with the media Monday to discuss a number of topics relevant to the upcoming game.

DIFFICULTIES IN TAKING ON A NO. 1 TEAM KENTUCKY

After Tuesday’s game is over, Florida will have faced all three teams currently ranked in the top three of both the USA Today/ESPN and Associated Press Top 25 Polls in road games. The Gators are hoping to come away with their first victory in such an environment and will attempt to do that by looking at the Wildcats not as the No. 1 team in the land but rather just another SEC opponent.

“We never really look at it as where a team is ranked or not ranked getting prepared for them. You always look at the team because rankings and things like that are going to change throughout the course of the year,” Donovan said. “Whether they’re ranked No. 1 or No. 5, clearly they’re one of the best teams in the country. There’s no doubt about that. It’s just more getting ready for how we got to defend, what we have to do on offense and what we got to do to prepare for them.”

His mentality has obviously been passed on to Florida’s players. “We don’t really view it as playing a No. 1 team. It’s just Kentucky,” freshman guard Bradley Beal said. “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.” Junior G Kenny Boynton added, “It’s just a ranking at the end of the day. We’re just going to go in there to compete and win.”

DON’T GIVE DAVIS ANY EXTRA OPPORTUNITIES

Instead the Gators will focus on players like forward Anthony Davis, who broke Shaquille O’Neal’s freshman blocks record and still has more than a handful of regular season games left to play. Donovan wants to make sure Florida does not make costly mistakes in the interior to give Kentucky additional possessions and momentum at home.

“He’s great at it, and it does it a lot of different ways,” he said of Davis’s blocking prowess. “You got to be smart when you’re attacking the basket. When he has got a free run and he’s got no body on him, it’s a lot easier blocking shots when you got a free run or a free jump to go up there.

“It can’t be a situation where we’re not going to go to the basket or not post up because he’s there. You just got to make good, wise choices because when he does block shots, it certainly ignites them on the fast break and they’re a terrific transition fast breaking team.”

LET CALIPARI SLEEP ON THE SHOOTERS

In the SEC teleconference on Monday, Wildcats head coach John Calipari said the two Gators who worry him the most are not the two that have seen the most court time for Florida but rather a pair of players who are brand new starters this season.

“With [Erik] Murphy now they can spread the floor out. A year ago, you could predict that four or five would be close to the rim and you had a chance to guard them in the post,” Calipari said about the junior forward’s effectiveness. “Right now with Murphy being able to shoot that three the way he does, it makes it even more difficult to zone in on their big guys.”

There is one other player he is keeping his eye on – Beal – but not because of his ability to get the ball in the hoop. “He’s a skilled player who can beat you on the bounce, can make shots, terrific free throw shooter, good passer. I’ll tell you what he’s been doing. He’s been rebounding – especially offensively,” he said. “He goes and gets balls. Let’s just say you stop him and you’re feeling good, all of sudden he goes and grabs an offensive rebound and sticks it in and kind of breaks your rhythm.”

More than anything else, Calipari believes it is up to Kentucky to play within themselves to extend the team’s home winning streak to 49 games. He thinks the Wildcats are playing well but can undoubtedly get better as long as they stay humble.

“We’re really young and so there’s an easy transition from swagger to arrogance and that’s where you get beat,” he said. “We’re a good team. We’re not a great team, but we’re a good team. What we’d like to be by the end of the year is as good as our team was last year as a team.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan on the schedule the rest of the way: “Our last eight games are extremely difficult because five of our last eight are on the road against really good teams. You’re going to play all 16 regardless. I think sometimes where they fall, how they fall does have an impact.”

» Donovan on sophomore center Patric Young’s recent struggles: “He is as good of a team player as I’ve coached. He’s about all the right things. The biggest thing for him is mentally pushing through. [...] With him being out as long as he has, you’re starting to see a carryover conditioning wise. He’s got to push himself through. There’s been moments in the last two games where he’s had those great minute or two bursts of athleticism, speed and quickness, and then he’s had some times where he’s kind of disappeared a little bit.”

» Donovan on his budding friendly rivalry with Calipari: “I’ve got great respect for John. John and I have a very good relationship. I’ve known John for a long, long time. Well before I ever got to Florida and well before I ever was at Kentucky as an assistant coach, Kentucky basketball-wise in this league has been kind of a measuring stick and they’ve set the bar for a long, long time going all the way back to Adolph Rupp. Kentucky in our league certainly brings a lot of national exposure. What you’ve seen in our league over the last 20 years is different coaches come in and elevate their program.

“At a school like Kentucky that has had the number of SEC Championships, conference tournament championships, national championships, there have been commitments made. [...] You’re seeing more of a commitment by a lot of schools to raise the bar, so to speak. Because Kentucky’s tradition as so rich and for so long, I don’t know if in a lot of ways people really understood how to do that, so to speak. I give Jeremy [Foley] a lot of credit in this. He had a vision for this program and for Florida and what could happen here. It’s not only recruiting and coaching, you got to have presidents, administrators and everybody on board to try and build something.”

» Beal on going to Kentucky: “Just playing in that environment is what I’m looking forward to most.”

» Beal on if he’s thought about turning pro after the season: “I’m not really sure about that. I really haven’t thought about it at all. I’ve just been focusing on the season one game at a time and focusing on the team right now.”

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