Gainesville, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats set out on a two-game road trip starting with Saturday's SEC clash with the Florida Gators at the O'Connell Center.
John Calipari has yet another extremely young squad in Lexington, and the team has yet to taste defeat as the only unbeaten program left in the nation. Kentucky is 22-0 on the season, which includes a 9-0 mark in the SEC. They haven't all come easy, including Tuesday's 69-58 win over Georgia.
Billy Donovan's Gators know how hard it is to run the table in the SEC. Florida completed the feat just a season ago and now looks to prevent Kentucky from doing the same. However, Florida is fighting an uphill battle, as the team is just 12-10 overall, including a mere 5-4 mark in conference play after Tuesday's 67-61 road loss at Vanderbilt.
Kentucky leads the all-time series with Florida by a count of 94-37, but last year the Gators became the first team since 1979 (Tennessee) to defeat the Wildcats three times in a season. These two teams will meet in the regular- season finale in Lexington on March 7.
The Wildcats threatened to steam-roll Georgia earlier in the week, but the pesky Bulldogs hung around and actually pulled within five points late, before Kentucky regained control in the 11-point victory. Sophomore Andrew Harrison had a huge game with a season-high 23 points to lead the way. Freshman Karl- Anthony Towns was instrumental as well, posting his third double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Kentucky's success this season stems from its dominant play at the defensive end of the floor. The Wildcats rank second in the nation in scoring defense (51.0 ppg) and first in field-goal percentage defense (.329), blocked shots (160) and scoring margin (+22.8). There aren't any prolific scorers on the roster, but rather a collection of adequate contributors, starting with Aaron Harrison and Devin Booker, who net 11.0 and 10.6 ppg, respectively. Willie Cauley-Stein (8.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Towns (8.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Andrew Harrison (8.2 ppg) can step up and deliver at any given time as well.
Florida's greatest asset is also its play at the defensive end. While not quite the consistency at which Kentucky operates, the Gators are usually stingy nonetheless, holding opponents to just 59.3 ppg on .404 shooting. The team also holds narrow positive margins in rebounding (+1.9) and turnovers (+2.2). Michael Frazier leads the way in scoring this season at 13.4 ppg, thanks in large part to his team-best 53 3-pointers. Dorian Finney-Smith is a close second with 12.8 ppg and leads the team in rebounding (5.7 rpg).
Vanderbilt scored the first 15 points of the game and never looked back, as the Gators failed in their bid for a road win earlier in the week. Florida struggled offensively in the game, converting just 36.8 percent from the floor, while getting manhandled on the glass, as the Gators were outrebounded 42-26. Not everyone for Florida struggled on the offensive end, as Frazier was 6-of-10 from the floor and 5-of-5 from the free-throw line to lead all scorers with 21 points. Eli Carter joined Frazier in double figures, posting 12 points in the loss.