Florida has proven to be unbeatable at home this season.
The seventh-ranked Gators (19-3, 9-1 Southeastern Conference) won their first eight games in the conference before dropping an 80-69 loss at Arkansas last week in Fayetteville. Despite the setback to the Razorbacks, Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari knows extending his team's five-game winning streak won't be an easy task when the two teams meet tonight in Gainesville.
“It will be a hard game for us to win,” Calipari said. “Let’s put it this way, they were an Elite Eight team last year, should have been in the Final Four, were one game short of that, and they’ve got everybody back. And college basketball isn’t what it was a year ago, so that’s how a good a challenge, or how big a challenge and how good of a team they are.”
Calipari's troops made a return to the Associated Press Top 25 this week after posting impressive wins over South Carolina and Auburn last week. The Wildcats (17-6, 8-2) displayed their toughness in a 72-62 triumph over the Tigers last weekend. Calipari said the contest against Auburn helped prepare the Cats for what he expects to see from the Gators.
“Auburn did a great job of trapping quickly on Nerlens (Noel),” the Kentucky coach said. “I expect that’s what we’ll see Florida do. They also did a job of switching defenses. I also expect Florida will throw some of that at us. But, mainly, they’re just going to come in and try to maul us and blitzkrieg. And it’s good. We’ve got to withstand it. We’ll find out where we are. We all know we’ve gotten better, anybody that’s watched us. Individual players have gotten better. Now, are we ready for this kind of challenge? We will see.”
Kentucky sophomore Kyle Wiltjer said the Wildcats care ready for the challenge featuring the two top ranked teams in the conference.
“We feel ready,” Wiltjer said Monday. “We have had a lot of tests before and I feel like we are improving every day, so it is going to be a great battle for us and hopefully we can learn from it.”
Kentucky's climb back to the Top 25 has been a work in progress. The Wildcats welcomed a return to the rankings, but the players, including freshman Archie Goodwin, aren't satisfied and yearn to keep climbing the proverbial ladder.
“I just feel like this is someplace where we want to stay, but we’re also not where we want to be,” Goodwin said. “We’re honestly not worried about rankings right now; we just want to keep getting better. And as long as we keep getting better, everything else will take care of itself.”
Like his players, Calipari feels good about his team's chances against the Gators in the first of two regular-season meetings between the conference foes. Kentucky has won seven of the past eight games against Florida, including the past two contests in Gainesville.
“My teams historically have played better on the road and I don’t know why,” Calipari said. “Maybe being at Kentucky, it’s hard playing at home. You’re supposed to win every game. I don’t know, but we’ve played better on the road than we have at home.”