No. 7 Kentucky treks to Florida to continue climb
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Kentucky is showing that its young roster can win by playing hard-nosed basketball, especially on defense.
The No. 7 Wildcats (17-3, 6-1 SEC) will take a seven-game winning streak into its matchup at Florida on Saturday at the O'Connell Center.
Kentucky is coming off another dominant defensive performance in an 87-52 win at Vanderbilt on Tuesday. The Wildcats held the Commodores to 37 percent shooting and blocked six shots. The Wildcats have held teams to 55 points or fewer in four of their past six games.
"My team is halfway up the mountain," Kentucky coach John Calipari said in the Lexington-Herald Leader following the Vanderbilt win. "We can't afford to revert back to how we've been playing."
Offensively, Kentucky has been led by freshman guard Keldon Johnson (14.4 points per game, 42.6 percent from 3-point range) and sophomore forward PJ Washington (13.4 ppg, 41.5 percent 3-pointers). The 6-foot-8 Washington posted 26 points and 12 rebounds against Vanderbilt.
"He's getting better," Calipari said.
"He's getting in better shape. He's winning all of the stuff that we do in conditioning. And when something goes wrong, he's not being cool anymore, like, it doesn't matter. Now he bows his neck."
Kentucky will be looking to avenge a pair of losses to Florida last season, including an 80-67 loss in Gainesville.
For Florida, it's a chance to pick up a statement win against a top 10 team. The Gators (12-8, 4-3) are 0-3 against ranked teams this season, with losses to Florida State, Michigan State and Tennessee.
Florida is coming off an emotional 90-86 overtime win against Mississippi at home on Wednesday night.
Senior guard KeVaughn Allen hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds in regulation to send the game to overtime and allow the Gators to prevail in the extra session. After struggling in tight games down the stretch throughout the season, Florida picked up its first win of the season in a game decided by five points or less, improving to 1-5 in such situations.
"We did a better job talking, communicating down the stretch," Allen said. "Everybody was just on one page."
Allen has scored in double figures in nine consecutive games and has emerged as Florida's go-to scorer in SEC play, averaging 18.3 points in seven conference games.
"He wants it more offensively," Florida coach Mike White said. "He's embraced the role of being a senior, talented scorer."
White is concerned about the challenges Kentucky will present with its size and length across the frontline.
Due to a season-ending injury to power forward Keith Stone, Florida is essentially starting four guards, with 6-foot-5 freshman Keyontae Johnson at the power spot. Kentucky starts Washington and 6-8 forward Reid Travis inside and can bring 6-11 center Nick Richards off the bench.
"Coach Cal's teams are always going to play very hard, with edge," White said. "They've got depth, they've got size, they've got tenacity on the ball, they're really good defensively. ...
"Having seen them earlier in the year to having seen them now, that's where they've made the most growth. We're going to have to play really, really well to score the ball just to stay competitive."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 2, 2019