GAINESVILLE — When you're preparing to face the No. 1 team in the nation, on its home court where it boasts the nation's longest home winning streak, it might be easy to get caught up in the hype.
But as No. 8 Florida prepares to play at No. 1 Kentucky Tuesday in a nationally-televised, primetime game, the reality of what's behind that ranking is more of what the Gators are concerned about.
Kentucky is in sole possession of first place in the SEC, has won 15 consecutive games this season, has the nation's leading shot blocker in Anthony Davis (4.8 per game) and hasn't lost at Rupp Arena in three years.
So really, what's No. 1 got to do with it? At least that's the way the Gators are approaching it.
"We don't really view it as playing the No. 1 team; it's just Kentucky," Florida freshman Bradley Beal said. "It's a league game so we're just coming in with the mentality we're just going to play our game, and focus in on what we need to do. And now worry they are the No. 1 team and we're trying to beat the No. 1 team. We're just trying to win a game."
Kentucky also isn't concerned about the ranking.
"I think we've been challenging ourselves really well to make sure that none of that has even been a problem, or a thought in our heads, that we're No. 1," sophomore forward Terrence Jones said. "We're just playing good teams and trying to compete."
Florida coach Billy Donovan said Kentucky has put together such an impressive streak because of the extraordinary talent coach John Calipari has assembled annually since his arrival. And this year is no exception.
"I think John has done an unbelievable job recruiting," Donovan said. "I think since I've been in the league, I don't know if there's been a program that has brought in as much talent as he has the last three years. They can win a lot of different ways. They can win with the game going up and down the floor, they can win grinding it out, they can win with their defense, they can win with their offense, they shoot well from beyond the 3-point line. They have a lot of answers with personnel at every single spot. They really don't have a lot of weaknesses in their team."
The Gators are on a seven-game winning streak, but Florida is 2-4 on the road, and will be trying to win at a place the Gators have earned just three victories in 15 years under Donovan.
"I think it's no pressure on us going into Rupp playing our game," junior guard Kenny Boynton said. "I just think we've got to go there with a winning mindset and everything else will take care of itself. A win would get us a lot of respect, but at the end of the day they are just another SEC team, like a Tennessee or South Carolina. I think if we go out and play like we've been playing lately we've got a great chance at winning."
In some ways, Calipari agrees. His team is still a work in progress, he said, and his biggest job Tuesday may be keeping the Wildcats level-headed.
"First of all, I'm going to talk to them a little bit about let's make sure we're being humble guys, let's understand why we've been winning and let's understand where we have to take this," Calipari said. "The issue that we have is that we're one of the youngest teams in country. … Three freshmen start, one comes off the bench, two sophomores start. Darius Miller is a senior but we're really young. So there's an easy transition from a swagger to arrogance and that's where you get beat."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]