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The Kentucky Wildcats called on their inner Crocodile Hunter when they faced off with the No. 7 ranked Gators at Rupp Arena Tuesday night. Picture Coach John Calipari with the Australian accent saying this. “This is a very dangerous breed of alligator, with a deadly bite, and a history of taking down its prey with a long range attack.” Fortunately the Cats had a much better fate than Steve Irwin in dominating Florida in the matchup of the two best teams in the SEC.
The Gators jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead with Kentucky struggling to get anything going offensively. After a quick Calipari timeout, the Cats responded with their own 9-0 run to take their first lead of the night. Florida kept the game close by dominating the glass during the first stanza, with 10 offensive rebounds and 8 second chance points. Doron Lamb hit back to back three pointers, the last as time expired in the first half, to give the Cats some breathing room at the break.
Coach Calipari once again called a quick timeout at the start of the second half after a sluggish start. Kentucky responded with an 11-0 run of their own that put the game out of reach for good. The Cats cruise to another dominating victory 78-58.
The talk coming into the game surrounded the first real “test” for the Cats in quite a while, at least in SEC play, against a top ten opponent. Kentucky had been playing their best basketball of the season coming in, but the quality of competition hadn’t been there. Also, UK struggled in defending the three point shot early in the season and with Florida being one of the best shooting teams in the nation, there was reason for concern.
On this night, Kentucky’s defense was the star holding the Gators to just under 35 percent shooting from the field. Florida made only 6-of-27 three-point attempts with most of those makes coming after the outcome was no longer in doubt. Just another truly dominating defensive performance, which is quickly becoming the norm for this squad, and will go a long way in winning games in March when it matters most.
The defense was not the only standout, as the Cats had four players in double figures, led by Lamb’s 18. Anthony Davis added 16 points while showing off a few new moves in his repertoire, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sliced and diced his way to 13 points and 13 rebounds. Marquis Teague had his first career double double with 12 points and 10 assists in another tremendous game at the point. And as if the team needed anything else positive, Kentucky hit all 11 free throws attempted.
The Cats have been playing their best basketball of the season by far and at this point I wouldn’t want to face this team. With the combination of defensive intensity and so many options on offense, this team is starting to live up to all the hype.
Of course, the yearly trip to the oddity that is Memorial Gym in Nashville awaits the young Cats on Saturday, and will provide yet another test. With the ESPN Gameday gang and the No. 1 Cats in town I’m sure the Vanderbilt faithful will be all riled up and ready to go. A loss won’t be the end of the world, but a victory would be a big step toward the SEC crown.