Reversing the trend

Reversing the trend

The recent dominance for Kentucky basketball has bled into the rivalry with Florida. The Wildcats have won five straight in the series and nine of the last 11 meetings. The one-sided rivalry has happened since John Calipari took over the program, winning a national championship with the Wildcats last season. The Gators are trying to reverse the trend on Tuesday.

That doesn't mean head coach Billy Donovan wanted to address the recent one-sided nature of rivalry.

"Clearly last year they were the best team in the country, and they only lost two games the whole year," Donovan said on Monday morning. "It was not necessarily against us, it was against everybody. More importantly is that we're in the midst of playing for a league championship. That's what is really most important right now."

The players are a little more tired of hearing about it. Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin was on a team that beat Kentucky during his first game against them. He scored nine points in 16 minutes off the bench as a freshman when he was known more for his management of the Florida offense instead of his scoring.

The past five meetings are a streak he's hoping the Gators can end on Tuesday.

"They beat us three times last year," Wilbekin said. "That's really embarrassing to lose three times to a team in one year. We want to come in this year with a focus, effort and ready to play our best basketball.

"It would be really important to keep first place in the league and what we're trying to do this year."

The challenge for Florida will be handling the size and physicality of the Kentucky roster. Even if the Gators were fully healthy, that would be an issue. Now without Will Yeguete because of a knee injury, the Gators are extremely thin behind Erik Murphy and Patric Young. Casey Prather played well against Mississippi State, but he's 6-6 and doesn't have the weight to bang in the paint.

Kentucky is deep in the paint. Freshman center Nerlens Noel is a feared shot blocker slightly behind the pace of Anthony Davis last season. Behind him is Willie Cauley-Stein, with Alex Poythress starting at power forward. Bench man Kyle Wiltjer brings size and a three-point shot off the bench.

"It's something we're going to have to deal with," Donovan said about Kentucky's size. "They've got really, really good length across the front line. They've got a lot of different lineups they can play. There's a lot of length up there.

"Our hand is what it is in terms of our frontcourt. We collectively have got to do a good job as a group. I've always been a big believer that it's not one guy's responsibility to take care of another guy, but we've got to do it as a team. We will need to continue to do a good job there as a team."

Noel leads the SEC and the country with 4.5 blocks per game. He's adding 9.6 rebounds per game and 2.1 steals, impacting the game in every way defensively. Even when he isn't blocking shots, Noel is always in the back of the minds' of his opponents.

"I think he's just as good as Anthony Davis as shot-blocker," Donovan said. "He's got unbelievable length, he's got unbelievable timing. He's very skilled at it. He keeps himself out of foul trouble. He can alter shots in a lot of different directions and areas of the floor.

"I think we have to have a level of intelligence of driving in there and trying to shoot over the top of him. But I still think that we're a team that needs to attack the basket."

Tuesday night will be about regaining some momentum in the rivalry from Florida. A win would push the Gators back to two games ahead of the pack in the Southeastern Conference standings, and while that's the priority for Tuesday, the game still means a lot to the players based on the rivalry.

"We've lost five straight, and it's time for us to start a new trend," Florida guard Kenny Boynton said. "Hopefully we win tomorrow and start a new trend."

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