- Tuesday, January 12 2010 -
Kentucky - 89 (Head Coach: John Calipari) - [Ranked 2nd by AP and 2nd by ESPN/USA Today]
Florida - 77 (Head Coach: Billy Donovan) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 38, Florida 31
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|Georgia 76 - 68|||||Auburn 72 - 67|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - If the Kentucky basketball team is going to accomplish regular season perfection its going to have to rise to the challenge of playing in front of eight of the most hostile environments it'll ever see.
One down. Seven to go.
The Cats (17-0, 2-0 SEC) calmly dropped a 14-1 hammer on Florida when the Gators tied the game in the closing minutes, escaping an obscenely loud O'Connell Center crowd of 12,618 with an 89-77 victory. The Cats' first win in Gainesville since 2004 was yet another testament to what UK coach John Calipari calls his team's will to win, as the Cats blew a 15-point second half lead then steadied themselves to hold the Gators to a single point over four critical minutes.
"The crowd was tremendous," Calipari said. "Everybody told me (it would be). Scott Padgett told me this is the best you're going to get as a crowd and they were. The best thing is they never played not to lose. There was no tentativeness to them."
The maturation process continues for Calipari's inexperienced squad but even the veterans are beginning to comprehend just how special the six newcomers may be. When Florida pulled even with 5:14 to go on a Vernon Macklin putback the Cats could have wilted in noise so loud a rock concert would have bowed in admiration, but junior forward Patrick Patterson took one peek at young guards John Wall and Eric Bledsoe and felt reassured.
"When we came out on the court I can remember when it got tied how loud it got and I looked at my teammates and they were still calm and cool," Patterson said. "They seemed fine. They didn't seem rattled and for them at this stage as freshmen shows we are mature and starting to progress.
"It's our will to win. Nobody surrenders. Coach always asks, 'If we get punched in the mouth are going to punch back or back up?' Every time we got punched in the mouth we answered."
For all the accolades and attention UK's stellar freshman class has garnered it continually backs it up. The fantastic five scored 61 of the Cats' 89 points, hauled in 27 of the 42 rebounds and dished out 11 of the 13 assists. For the second consecutive game they helped close out an opponent that delivered its best shot, this time with Wall and Bledsoe scoring the final 12 points as UK pulled away.
"Every step of the way I learn something about my teammates, especially the freshmen," Patterson said. "Madison Square Garden was stage one. At Indiana in Bloomington was stage two. It's a progressive thing so for my teammates to play the way they played in this hostile environment I take my hat off to them. They never stop fighting, never stop battling and never surrender. In crunch time situations they always seem to come up with plays."
Calipari marveled at his players' ability to function in such hostile conditions despite never having been thrust into that situation before. Add Daniel Orton's nine rebounds and four blocks, Darnell Dodson's critical three from the left wing to stretch the lead to 77-72 and cap a five-point possession after Florida tied the game, and DeMarcus Cousins' eight second half points and it was the kittens who played like tigers yet again.
"What happened? Where were we? Why did it happen all in the last three or four minutes?" Calipari said after the game. "We just have to figure out how we are going to tap into that because this is who we have to be and how we have to play.
"The thing I look at again is we were up 15 and all the sudden we're tied. At some point this season we've got to get people down and keep them down because we'll start losing games and not just one, but two, three and four."
For now, they'll take the victories and the lessons learned and continue to march down the road to perfection.
Eric Bledsoe scraps for the ball
John Wall (#11) shoots by Florida's Chandler Parsons