Kentucky forward Anthony Davis reacts after he made a 3-pointer in the second half of a 74-59 win against Florida.
It wasn’t about setting a school record for the most regular-season victories.
Or solidifying its claim to the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
All those things are important, but UK coach John Calipari made Sunday’s game about something else: pride.
"I told them prior to the game, 'Look, bottom line is if we lose we’re still No. 1 seed [in the Southeastern Conference tournament]. It doesn’t change our seeding. It doesn’t do anything, but it’s about pride. And I know you guys want to win. Just play to win and if they beat us, they beat us,’ ” Calipari said. "That was the message prior to the game: Just go have pride and play."
Considering how the Wildcats (30-1, 16-0) dominated the 13th-ranked Gators (22-9, 10-6), it’s hard to imagine how well they would have played had there really been something on the line. Kentucky outscored Florida 40-28 in the paint, blocked nine shots, held the Gators to 38.2 percent shooting, and turned the ball over just six times.
Anthony Davis nearly had a triple-double -- 22 points, 12 rebounds, and six blocks -- and Terrence Jones had 19 points, four rebounds and three blocks to help Kentucky win its 22nd game in a row and become the third UK team to post a 16-0 conference record (1996 and 2003)
"That’s as good as we played all year," Calipari said.
The Wildcats led by as many as 16 points in the first half, but the Gators made a run in the second and cut the lead to just two points with 16:30 to play. Davis took over from there, though, scoring 10 points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking three shots to help Kentucky pull away. Three of Davis’ points came on just his second 3-pointer of the season.
But as good as Davis was, the key for the Wildcats was the play of Jones. The preseason All-American answered Calipari’s pregame challenge by scoring UK’s first eight points -- driving past UF forward Erik Murphy -- and later responded with another basket when Calipari considered benching him after he settled for a fadeaway jumper.
"What about Terrence Jones?" Calipari said. "If Terrence Jones plays that way for us, we’re not just good, we’re real good. And that’s what he was today. He was phenomenal.
"I kept telling him, ‘Terrence you’re one of the top five players in the country, play that way. You don’t need to shoot fadeaways. Just go at people. You can score. You can drive it. Go. There’s nothing holding you back.' "
Said Jones: "Every time he tries to challenge me I try to step up and show him that I’m listening and go as hard as I can for him. Today he told me he wanted me to score so that’s what I tried to do."
Davis and Jones helped minimize perhaps the best performance of Florida center Patric Young’s career. He scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds against those two. It’s the most points he’s scored since he had a career-high 25 against Arizona on Dec. 7.
"We had to have some kind of answer at the basket with Davis and Jones and the way those two performed,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “Patric did about as well as answering as possible."
But Kentucky wouldn’t let anyone else even get in a question. The Gators, who lead the nation in 3-pointers per game (10.0), went just 6-for-22 from long range. Guards Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Bradley Beal were a combined 4-for-17. They rarely got wide-open looks, and Boynton and Walker were bothered by UK’s length.
"I thought we had great shots,” Donovan said. “It’s about as good of shots as you’re going to get against them."
It was a complete performance from the Wildcats, who likely will be the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament if they roll through the SEC tournament the way they did the conference during the regular season. At that point, Calipari isn’t going to appeal to their pride. He’s going to prod their pain about their only loss of the season at Indiana on Dec. 10.
Although he admitted that he doesn’t really have to do much, because the highlights of the Hoosiers’ buzzer-beater seems to pop up on television all the time.
"I want to thank ESPN,” Calipari said. “They’ve done one of the greatest services for my program by having that advertisement that keeps showing Indiana beating us. Every time my team watches TV and on ESPN and they see it they shake their head. It makes them mad.