Kentucky aces tough test against Gators
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Doron Lamb struggled to explain why top-ranked Kentucky could roll so easily over No. 8 Florida. It’s much easier for the Wildcats to talk about their goal.
“I told somebody we were going to blow them out today. I just felt it coming,” said Lamb, who finished with 18 points in a 78-58 victory Tuesday night. “I knew it was coming for some reason. I don’t know why.”
Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 13 points and 13 rebounds and Kentucky easily passed its toughest Southeastern Conference test to date for its 49th straight home win.
“We have this little swagger,” freshman Anthony Davis said. “We just want to go out there and play hard and win. We’re very capable of winning a national championship if we keep playing how we’re playing.”
The Wildcats (24-1, 10-0) matched their best start in league play since 2005 thanks to three freshmen starters who have jelled into a formidable defense to go along with their high-powered offense.
“We play together so well — we enjoy playing together on offense and defense. We communicate. We just have fun out there,” said Marquis Teague, who had 12 points and a career-best 10 assists. “It makes us play harder when you enjoy who you’re playing with.”
Davis added 16 points for Kentucky, which won its 16th straight overall and ended Florida’s run of seven consecutive wins.
Kenny Boynton led the Gators (19-5, 7-2) with 18 points, but the team with the nation’s most 3-pointers this season went 6 of 27 from behind the arc and shot 34.9 percent overall from the field.
One of the last remaining questions for a team that continues to believe it can play for a national championship in just under two months had been the quality of opponents the Wildcats had faced after not meeting a ranked team in over a month.
Kentucky answered it emphatically.
“The one thing I like about their team is I love their disposition on the floor,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “There’s a certain disposition you have to have and I’m not talking about an arrogance or a cockiness, but there’s like a focus level in terms of what really goes into winning at that level. There’s a mentality there.”
Florida scored the first two baskets of the second half to cut it to 38-30, but Kentucky answered with an 11-0 run sparked when Teague and Darius Miller hit consecutive 3-pointers.
Florida freshman Bradley Beal then drove to the hoop only to have Davis reject his shot and Davis swatted another from Patric Young on the possession for good measure.
Miller added another jumper and Kidd-Gilchrist spun, hit a basket and was fouled. He completed the three-point play that made it 49-30 as Florida missed eight straight shots before snapping the skid.
Coach John Calipari compared Kidd-Gilchrist to his biggest star when he coached at Memphis.
“He reminds me of Derrick Rose,” Calipari said. “He’s tougher on himself than I am on him. Like he came running over during the game and says to me, `Coach, I’m sorry.’ I said, `Stop, just have fun and go play.'”
The lead reached 20 points when Lamb buried a 3 from the left corner with 11:27 left and by as many as 21 late.
“It’s fun winning by 20,” Teague said.
Beal scored 14 points and Young added 12 for the Gators.
“We’ve got time before we play them again,” Boynton said. “We just have to come out and work.”
Florida insisted before the game all the pressure was on the Wildcats, but this group that starts three freshmen and two sophomores doesn’t appear to get rattled easily. Their only blemish is a one-point loss in December at Indiana.
Fans received a panoramic black-and-white poster of Davis stretching his arms out over a span of more than eight basketballs. When he puts his arms up, he’s been almost unstoppable in leading the nation’s top-ranked defense by field goal percentage.
Davis blocked four shots, leading the country with 120 and continuing to climb the SEC’s season list after already surpassing Shaquille O’Neal’s freshman conference record set 22 years ago.
“They are very, very good,” Donovan said. “There is not one thing you do necessarily against them that is a formula to win.”
Kentucky’s lone problem was a slow start. The Wildcats fell behind 6-0 and missed their first seven shots before scoring nine straight points.
The game featured frenetic up-and-down play early. In one sequence, Mike Rosario went behind his back to find Young for a dunk, but Kidd-Gilchrist answered when he floated an alley-oop pass to Davis for a slam over Erik Murphy.
It was an electric — and sometimes bizarre — atmosphere among the 24,389 fans at Rupp Arena. Former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl sat courtside signing a few autographs, and at one point during free throws by Beal in the first half a fan in the student section tried to distract Beal by wearing nothing but a blue Speedo.
It didn’t work.
Beal made the free throws, but Florida went more than 6 minutes without a field goal.
Teague’s 3-pointer gave the Wildcats their first double-digit lead with 1:38 left in the first half and Lamb hit two 3-pointers in the final minute to put them up 38-26.
“The last one going into halftime, I knew it was over after that,” Lamb said.