Friday, March 9, 2012
Gators eye Round 3 with Kentucky
By David Helman
NEW ORLEANS -- The moment Trevor Lacey's buzzer-beater bricked off the rim and Florida's win against Alabama became final, the thought set in.
The No. 19 Gators put the skids on a three-game losing streak and advanced to the SEC tournament semifinals with a 66-63 win Friday. The only problem is, the menace that awaits them is top-ranked Kentucky, their two-time tormentors from earlier this season. In less than 24 hours, Florida faces the prospect of three losses in three tries to the Wildcats.
"We definitely don't want to be swept," Florida guard Kenny Boynton said. "We've got to come out tomorrow and play hard -- stay focused throughout the whole game."
Florida hasn't just dropped two games to its bitter basketball rivals, either. The Wildcats walloped the Gators in both meetings, by margins of 20 at Rupp Arena and 15 in Gainesville. One of those losses came last week, when Kentucky went on a 15-4 run during the last 8:36 to cap a perfect SEC season.
The wounds of that loss are still fresh, especially since it capped Florida's three-game slide to end the regular season. But Florida coach Billy Donovan said the quick turnaround could play into his team's favor. With so little time between games, the Gators should know exactly what to expect -- but then again, so will the Wildcats.
"I just think that in competition, the ebbs and flows sometimes of the way your team can look in a 48-hour period, 24-hour period is -- you never really know," Donovan said.
As little a difference as it might have made, the Gators players were quick to point out their improvement in the teams' second game, as well as their potential in this third meeting.
"We only lost by 15 last time," said Patric Young with a rueful laugh. "I think we know exactly what to expect out of these guys. I don't think they give us much respect, but we're going to go out there and play hard, and hopefully it will be different this time."
After defeating Alabama on Friday, Patric Young and Florida will brace themselves for another battle with No. 1 Kentucky.
Young was a force in the teams' meeting last week. The sophomore squared off with Anthony Davis and came out with 21 points and nine boards, finishing just behind his rival big man (Davis posted 22 and 12).
"He just plays straight behind you and times your shot so he can block it every time. ... He doesn't even have to jump high because he's so long," Young said.
Davis broke out some talents that Young and his teammates weren't ready for last week, and that knowledge gives Florida something extra to worry about.
"He showed different aspects of his game -- he drove to the basket a few times, he knocked down a 3," Young said. "And he still does his alley-oop thing. ... If he keeps doing stuff like that he definitely is their best player."
The Gators might have gotten a win against Alabama on Friday afternoon, but if their defense against Tide forward JaMychal Green is any indicator, they could be in trouble against the mighty UK duo of Davis and Terrence Jones. Green essentially did what he wanted to against Florida. He went for 22 points and 10 boards. On top of that, he limited Young to six points and helped foul him out of the game.
"The problem was on the defensive end of the floor," Donovan said. "We would get a stop and we wouldn't come down with the ball, wouldn't come down with the rebound. Green tipping it back in, loose ball, they came down with it, and it gave them an extra possession in the game."
As if Florida needed something else working against it, there's the added factor of the New Orleans Arena -- or Rupp Arena South, as it might as well be called. It's nothing new for Kentucky fans to travel in droves, and they've done it again in 2012. It isn't an ideal scenario, but as members of the SEC, it's something the Gators have gotten used to.
"It's my third year here, so I know in the SEC tournament they come every year with their team," Boynton said. "It's not a surprise. ... We played Kentucky in Atlanta last year, and that was basically a road game, so we know what to expect."
In every aspect of this rematch, it seems the Gators know what to expect. The question now is can they do anything about it?