Florida Gators wary entering tonight's basketball game with slumping Kentucky

In the midst of its three-game losing streak, the longest of the year, Kentucky has had an entire week off to analyze and search for answers to what has gone wrong.

During that same span, Florida coach Billy Donovan and his Gators have had time off to work on new ways to defend the best duo in the SEC, junior guard Jodie Meeks and sophomore Patrick Patterson.

How well both teams used the off week might go a long way to determining the outcome of tonight's nationally televised game between the Gators (19-4, 6-2 SEC) and Wildcats (16-7, 5-3) at Rupp Arena.

"We had some days in practice where we were able to improve and focus on some things and maybe add some new things in," Donovan said. "The same could probably be said for Kentucky. … Going into this game on the road, it is always a tough place to play. It will be a great environment and a great challenge for our team."

The challenge for Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie is to get his team back to the form it showed earlier this season. Kentucky opened 5-0 in the conference before dropping the past three, including two at home. But getting back on track might be easier said than done.

"It's hard to get back on track because you have to really value possessions and those kinds of things," Gillispie said. "It's very easy to get off track. You may not always realize the margin for error is slim. But mostly you have to really be at your best every single time out, no matter if you're 5-0, 5-3 or a three-game losing streak. You have to value possessions; you've got to get better defending. We've got to defend and rebound better, take shots a little bit better and take care of the ball."

The Gators have won three of their past five, but tonight's game mirrors their most recent nationally televised night contest. Florida faced an angry Tennessee team with a similar losing streak Jan. 31 and got blown out by 16.

"We're a different team now," senior forward Dan Werner said.

To avoid a similar fate, the Gators must somehow contain Meeks and Patterson. In SEC play, Kentucky is averaging 72 points as a team; Meeks and Patterson combine to average 44.5.

Patterson is third in the nation in field-goal percentage (65.4) and is the only player in the SEC to rank in the top five in scoring and rebounding. Meeks leads the SEC in scoring and ranks fourth nationally (25.1 points per game).

"They are a big focal point of their offense," sophomore forward Chandler Parsons said. "We're going to try and contain them as much as possible, continue to play our style, press and get the ball going up and down. But we've definitely got to pay a lot of attention to those guys."

Despite their three-game slide, the Wildcats sit one game out of first place in the SEC East behind Florida and South Carolina, which makes battling out of the slump tonight that much more important.

"We're looking forward to it," Gillispie said. "It's a really good Florida team that keeps on getting better. It's a hard team to guard, like a lot of teams in our conference, because they really have the ability to spread you out. A great transition team, a very effective offensive team, that's why they don't have too many losses."

Since 2005, Florida has won seven of eight meetings with Kentucky, but that's the last thing Donovan wants his team thinking about. He expects to get Kentucky's best, and he wants the players to do the same.

"You have to be a team that understands we really have to get this one," Donovan said. "Hopefully our guys feel the same way their guys feel."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

Tonight

Florida

at Kentucky

When/where: 9; Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.

TV/radio: ESPN; 970-AM

Florida Gators wary entering tonight's basketball game with slumping Kentucky 02/09/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 9, 2009 10:44pm]

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