KENTUCKY 78, FLORIDA 58
Feb. 7, 2012
Rupp Arena; Lexington, Ky.
For more than a month Kentucky had been waiting to prove itself on the national stage against an opponent considered a legitimate threat to its supremacy.
The top-ranked Cats' response was swift and severe, shaking off a tepid start to roar past No. 8 Florida 78-58 at Rupp Arena. The victory put UK (24-1, 10-0) firmly in the driver's seat in the races for the Southeastern Conference regular season title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ignited the Cats early on his way to 13 points and 13 rebounds, while Doron Lamb (18 points), Anthony Davis (16 points, 6 rebounds, 4 blocks) and Marquis Teague (12 points, 10 assists) all had impressive nights.
The Cats' underrated defense locked up one of the best offensive teams in the nation and held the Gators to a season-low six three-pointers on 27 attempts.
On Marquis Teague's defensive effort:
“He had one play where he broke down, kind of stopped on a play and they had a three in the corner right in front of our bench. Short of that, he was terrific. You can't dribble around him....he's a pit bull.”
“They are very, very god. There is not one thing you do necessarily against them that is a formula to win.” – Florida coach Billy Donovan
FROM THE LOCKER ROOM
“I think we made a big statement. We just wanted to come in and show that we can beat anyone and we can beat a team by a good amount (of points).” – Kentucky guard Marquis Teague
Somewhere down the line there may be a way to accurately describe Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's importance to Kentucky's basketball team but for now the greatest compliment you can give the freshman forward is that every single one of his teammates, coaches and even opposing coaches talk over and over again about how his intangibles change the game. There are more athletic players. There are quicker players. There are more skilled players. But you'd be hard pressed to come up with another player in the country who comes up larger in bigger games than Kidd-Gilchrist. The latest example: 13 points, 13 rebounds and three assists in 39 pedal to the metal minutes against Florida.
In the opening minutes it was Kentucky that looked like a team a bit unsure of itself against the type of opponent it hadn't seen in more than a month. The Cats were tentative and tight, falling behind 6-0 and missing eight of their first 10 shots, but managed the weather the early jitters with a defensive effort that kept the Gators from extended their advantage. The game was tied at 17 with 9:36 remaining in the first half when a Terrence Jones putback ignited a 21-9 run to end the half. When UK finished the half with three consecutive three-pointers – including Doron Lamb's from the corner just before the buzzer – it gave them the cushion they needed and clearly left the Gators rattled.
DID YOU NOTICE?
The SEC's premier matchup to this point of the season brought out a raucous Rupp Arena crowd – and one that included an unlikely guest. Former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl took his courtside seat just minutes before the game started and was a hit with fans seeking photo and autograph opportunities, but his best line may have come at halftime when he was overheard saying he was excited to be in Rupp Arena and 'not having to play those monsters', a resounding compliment to Kentucky's talented team.
Marquis Teague was once considered the potential weak link in Kentucky's championship hopes but the light bulb appears to have come on as the Cats head down the home stretch. The freshman point guard wasn't flawless but was plenty good enough in a 12-point, 10-assist effort that had UK coach John Calipari raving about his defensive effort on Erving Walker. Teague's 'pit bull' – as Calipari called it – mentality on defense hounded Walker into a scoreless, 0-of-7 night and left Florida coach Billy Donovan to flatly say the matchup between those two players 'really hurt' the Gators. The 10 dimes were a career high for Teague, helped give him first double double and lifted his total to 38 assists in the past seven games.
6 – There was no secret about Florida's plan coming into the game, the Gators were going to fire away from three-point range and attempt to shoot their way to a victory in Rupp Arena. So much for that. Florida entered the game with the most three-pointers made per game in the country yet suffered its least productive game from beyond the arc all season, making just 6-of-27. The Gators' previous low had been seven on five different occasions. Take out Kenny Boynton's 4-of-8 line – three of which came late with the outcome long since decided – and the Gators were just 2-of-19.
The lingering doubts made sense in a way. Kentucky had been bulldozing everyone in its path for the past few weeks but the reality was none of the Cats' last 10 victories came against teams that are locks for the NCAA Tournament. How could you possibly judge them accurately? Here's how – what what the Cats did to a very good, veteran Florida team that had been cruising along itself. UK seemed to take the measure of the Gators early in the contest, saw something they could exploit and then unleashed a dizzying display of speed, athleticism, versatility and skill. Make no mistake, this effort proved the Cats are for real.
Kentucky (24-1, 10-0) must follow up its resounding victory by traveling to quirky Memorial Gym for an ESPN 'GameDay' date with Vanderbilt at 9 p.m. On Saturday, Feb. 11.