LEXINGTON, Ky. — Despite periodic breakdowns on both ends that have allowed opponents to remain competitive, Kentucky is on a four-game winning streak.
But the Wildcats (19-5, 9-2 Southeastern Conference) have no room for such errors tonight against first-place Florida (22-2, 11-0). Facing a veteran Gators squad that has won its past 16 games, Kentucky must play its best.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said his squad won’t be able to mask all its weaknesses against a Florida team that thrives on opponents’ mistakes.
“This game will tell us where we are,” Calipari said Friday. “I would imagine they (the Gators) are coming in not to just win, they want to smash. We’re going to find out. ...
“They know it’s a hard game, they know what we’re up against. This team could be the No. 1 team in the country and they’ve got (four) seniors.”
The game is the first of two between the schools, who meet again March 8 in Gainesville, Fla., in the regular-season finale for both. While the experience gap between Florida’s seasoned roster and Kentucky’s freshman-heavy rotation figures to be one of the biggest story lines, the Wildcats believe they can negate that difference with better execution and energy.
“We’ve played half the year already, so we’re all experienced players,” sophomore forward Alex Poythress said.
Kentucky’s challenges are tightening its transition defense and using its size. Certainly, playing the only team above the Wildcats in the SEC should motivate them to play more crisply in a game that could determine the regular season champion.
That reward gives the Gators plenty of incentive to win as well.
“To get a win and stay in first place in the SEC is just enough motivation for us to go in there and get it done,” Florida center Patric Young said. “This is going to be a battle for sure.”