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No. 1 with a bullet: Kentucky blasts Florida

2/8/2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- It sounds weird to suggest that the No. 1 team in the country, riding a 15-game winning streak, had something to prove.

Still, some had wondered whether Kentucky's 23-1 record going into Tuesday night was bloated from the soft underbelly of the SEC. At least two rival league coaches, including Florida's Billy Donovan, questioned the fairness of the Wildcats' easy early schedule and lack of Thursday-Saturday turnarounds.

That chatter definitely reached the ears of Kentucky's players.

"We heard that we had played weaker teams at the beginning of our conference [schedule]," Wildcats point guard Marquis Teague said. "So we were just waiting to get better competition."

Lying in wait, it turns out. Florida came into Rupp Arena as the first ranked opponent Kentucky has seen in the past 38 days. The No. 7 Gators left humbled by a 78-58 rout Tuesday night. The Wildcats left no doubt who's No. 1.

This is the same Florida team that lost by four points at No. 2 Syracuse earlier this season and by seven at No. 3 Ohio State, so Donovan knows what playing a top-five team on the road looks like. Although he said Syracuse would give Kentucky an interesting game because of the Orange's length, depth and zone defense, he knows which one has the talent edge.

"They clearly have six guys who are first-round draft picks on their team," Donovan said of Kentucky.

And when all that talent plays together as well as it did Tuesday night, well, good luck.

Before the game, Kentucky distributed posters of star freshman center Anthony Davis to all 24,389 fans in attendance as part of a printing run of 30,000, making the poster instantly the hottest collector's item in Lexington. But although he is the team's national player of the year candidate, Davis' showing against the Gators (16 points, six rebounds, four blocks) ranked only about fourth or fifth on the list of impressive performances in this one.

Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist always seems to raise his game in the biggest situations and did it again Tuesday, scoring 13 points to go along with 13 rebounds. When Florida tried to press, Kidd-Gilchrist turned into a one-man press break by gliding effortlessly to the rim.

"When he gets that ball in the open court, he takes two strides and he's about to the NBA line," John Calipari said. "He's laying it in through traffic, tucking the ball. We always tell our guys, if he's ahead of you, you must give him the ball. If you don't, you'll come out of the game because he's always going to make something good happen."

Calipari's luxury is that his two best players, Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist, don't need to have plays run for them. But Kentucky showed how devastating it can be when Teague -- considered the starting lineup's weak link early in the season -- commands the offense. Teague dished out a career-high 10 assists against Florida, and his pick-and-roll plays with Davis in the first half resulted in two lob dunks for the big man. Another time, both defenders went with Davis, leaving Teague wide open for an easy layup.

"They know if they commit to me, I'm going to throw the lob and he's going to dunk it," Teague said. "So basically they've got to pick and choose what they're going to do, and I feel like either way we're going to get a bucket."

Kentucky had a streak of seven straight field goals coming on dunks or shots right at the rim during a decisive run late in the first half. Then it ended the half with three straight 3-pointers, the last two by Doron Lamb, who scored a team-high 18 points.

The Wildcats made nine of 15 shots from behind the arc while holding the Gators -- who went into the game leading the country in made 3-pointers -- to a season-low six 3s out of 27 attempts. Teague shut down Erving Walker as Florida's second-leading scorer went scoreless on seven shot attempts.

"Every time they shot a 3, we put a hand in their face or made them drive to our bigs to get a block," Lamb said. "If we're all clicking and everybody is making their shots and doing their roles, I don't think anybody can beat us, really."

Calipari didn't gush over his team's defense, saying Florida simply missed a lot of open shots it normally sinks. He said a true measuring stick for the Wildcats will come when a team "goes nutty" by getting hot from the outside. That could happen as soon as this Saturday, when Kentucky faces its toughest road test of the SEC season at Vanderbilt in what should be a nutty environment for ESPN's "GameDay."

Still, there's little question that Florida represented the best opposition for Kentucky since a New Year's Eve win over rival Louisville. The past five weeks have included wins over SEC bottom-feeders such as South Carolina (ESPN Insider RPI: 150), Tennessee (140), Auburn (122) and Georgia (118).

So the nation's No. 1 team had at least a little something to prove Tuesday night. And it sure did.

"I think we made a big statement," Teague said.