One way or another, it will all be over soon.
This Kentucky team will be gone, another season past and another crop of players will be gone. Seniors Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas will depart along with, in all probability, at least a few of the Wildcats' underclassmen.
"Coach says every year that this team will never be together again," sophomore forward Terrence Jones said. "This whole team will never be together. We just try to enjoy this year and stay focused."
Their goals are still in front of them. The Cats will take aim at the Southeastern Conference Tournament title this week and a national championship after that. But on Sunday, they'll have the chance to achieve something they weren't even trying for: an undefeated run through the SEC.
No. 1 Kentucky (29-1, 15-0 SEC) has already beaten every team in the league once, and the Wildcats smashed the Gators (22-8, 10-5 SEC) by 20 points in their first meeting on Feb. 7. Florida has stumbled since, losing four of seven games beginning with their defeat at Rupp Arena.
The Gators are still dangerous, Kentucky head coach John Calipari warns, but his team becomes more ferocious with each passing game.
"In the breakdown tape yesterday (of Thursday's Georgia game), there was not a whole lot of bad stuff I could show them," Calipari said. "I picked out when a guy got water and this guy wasn't cheering on the bench, stuff like that. But it was hard to pull out (negative) stuff."
Florida will use the same tactics they did in the first meeting. The Gators rely on the three-point shot for points. When they struggle from outside, the offense falters.
Florida took an early lead against UK in their first meeting before the Wildcats settled down. Florida finished the game just 6-27 from outside as UK cruised for most of the second half.
But guarding the three-pointer can be tricky, freshman point guard Marquis Teague said. There are ways to defend it, but outside of closing out and keeping their hands up, there isn't much to be done.
"If they're hitting it, you have a serious problem," he said. "You can't control it. All you can do is contest it and try and make it as tough on them as possible."
Calipari is still finding things to try and help the team improve, but there's only so much left to work on. He's trying to prepare his team as best as he can, even though that isn't always enough.
"You could have a bad free throw shooting night, a bad three-point shooting night," Calipari said. "You could have foul trouble, there's all kind of things. It's one and done. Fate intervenes. You have a guy at the game, all of a sudden, 'That's a foul, that's a foul, Anthony, sit down.' There's a close call and it goes against you twice. You get the seeds and you look at the draw and you say 'Oh my gosh, they let the Lakers in! I don't think you can have the Lakers in.'
"You look at it and it's fate … Whatever happens is going to happen at this point."
A win on Sunday would make Kentucky the first major conference team to go undefeated in conference play since the Wildcats did it in 2002-03. But that's not what's on their minds as the season nears its end. Regardless of what happens, there's only so much time left for this team.
"We know," Teague said. "We want to take advantage of our last few games."
Into the Swamp
Florida's O'Connell Center isn't the ideal locale for Kentucky to seek an undefeated SEC season. The Gators are 14-1 at home this season, including 6-1 in the SEC. Only Tennessee has won at the O Dome, a 75-70 win on Feb. 11, four days after Florida lost at Rupp Arena. Billy Donovan is 9-6 at home against Kentucky, including 1-1 against John Calipari. The Gators are 0-2 at home against No. 1-ranked Kentucky teams, losing to the top-ranked Wildcats in 1954 and 1978.
Threes are Key
Florida is averaging 10 three-pointers per game this season, and that number leads the nation. The Gators have made 10 or more three-pointers 19 times this season, the most in a season by any Donovan-coached team. When UK beat Florida 78-58 last month in Rupp Arena, the Wildcats held the Gators to 6-of-27 three-point shooting.
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