GAINESVILLE — Now, the talk of perfection is acceptable conversation.
For weeks as the victories mounted and the ranking improved, the Florida Gators avoided talk of going undefeated in SEC play at all costs.
No SEC team has gone 18-0 in conference play, but with a win today, the No. 1 Gators can accomplish that feat.
Coincidentally, it is No. 25 Kentucky, the program steeped in tradition, national titles and multiple undefeated conference seasons with shorter schedules, that stands in Florida's way. Students have been camping for days and tickets for the sold-out game were being resold for four times the face value, yet the Gator players insisted Friday that they're approaching this as just another game.
"I don't think it makes it any more special because it's them," senior guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "I think the reason why we want to win is obviously just our motto of try to come out and win every game, and play every game hard, every possession hard. Having an opportunity to go 18-0, this being our last game, regardless of who we're playing, we want to play our best."
UF coach Billy Donovan said he expects the game to be emotional, but he has reminded his players of what he has preached all season: It's only one game.
"We just sort of take one game at a time," senior forward Will Yeguete said. "I think we've done a really good job doing that this year. Like Coach D said, just stay in the moment. We thought about it (18-0) and talked about it the other day, but we know it's going to take one game, just one game."
This isn't the Kentucky team many experts expected to have emerged by now. The Wildcats have lost two of their past four, including against unranked South Carolina, which had won just 10 games when the two met March 1. While the Gators are a projected No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and are on a 22-game win streak, the Wildcats need a victory to improve their seeding. Generally the favorite in the past, underdog Kentucky enters with something to prove.
"They've got to have a fire, a passion to play," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "If we've got to get them excited about this game — you know, I think they'll be ready to play. … It's a tough challenge."
The Gators aren't taking Kentucky lightly despite the Wildcats' recent struggles. Florida's win in Lexington last month was its first at Rupp Arena since 2007, and the Gators don't expect Kentucky to go down without a fight.
"We are, in my opinion, preparing for a team we watched on film that is really talented, really gifted, that's got a lot of ability and potential," Donovan said. "They do a lot of things extremely well. They've got great size, athleticism, strength, they've got great individual talent, so they have all the pieces."