FLORIDA AT KENTUCKY | 9 pm | ESPN

Gillispie: 'We will return'

FLORIDA GAME PERFECT CHANCE TO END SLUMP

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 10, 2009 

  • When: 9 p.m. Tuesday | TV: ESPN

    Records: Florida (19-4, 6-2 SEC); Kentucky (16-7, 5-3 SEC)

    Last meeting: UK won 75-70 on March 9, 2008, in Lexington

    Series: UK leads 85-31 | Radio: WLAP-AM 630; WBUL-FM 98.1

Sounding like Douglas MacArthur upon leaving the Philippines, Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie predicted better times ahead.

"The sky falling, I don't think that's the way it works," Gillispie said of the gloominess created by UK's current three-game losing streak. "We were pretty good 10 days ago. We will return."

Then he added, "We just need to do it quickly."

With perfect timing, a chance comes Tuesday night against visiting Florida. A victory parts the clouds and elevates Kentucky into a share of first place in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division.

The game seems to boil down to Kentucky's mind-set against Florida's skill set. Three straight losses sharpened UK's defense-first approach.

"The overall intensity and attitude are good on the team," Patrick Patterson said. "I think we're well prepared for this game."

Speaking on an SEC teleconference Monday, Florida Coach Billy Donovan did not object to his team being described as offense-oriented.

"I'd say that's pretty accurate," he said. "We are not a physically imposing team."

Earlier acknowledgement came after the Gators beat South Carolina 97-93 last week.

"We're not going to be this lock-down defensive team that gives up 60 points," Donovan said in his post-game remarks. "That would be wishful thinking."

While Donovan noted how all coaches want tough teams that impose their will on opponents, Florida hardly scares anyone when it plays 5-foot-8 freshman Erving Walker at shooting guard and 6-foot senior Walter Hodge at small forward.

The front line — 6-8 Dan Werner, 6-8 Alex Tyus, 6-9 Chandler Parsons and 6-10 freshman Kenny Kadji — lacks a low-post offensive anchor like, say, Patterson.

The Gators compensate "through passing," Donovan said, "changing zones (on defense), the pacing of the game. We try to put guys in positions so some of those things don't get exposed."

Led by point guard Nick Calathes, who at 6-6 is the one Florida player who has size for his position, the Gators lead the SEC in assists (17 per league game), assist-to-turnover ratio (plus 1.3) and points (79 ppg). Florida is second in three-point accuracy (39.1 percent) and baskets from the beyond the arc (9.0 per league game).

So Florida is compensating nicely. Just don't call the Gators a finesse team.

"Usually when you hear finesse you think of guys aren't tough, physical and stuff," Werner said in interviews with the Florida media corps Monday. "I think on the defensive end we can be tough, physical. On offense, we might have to play finesse with the type of players and the way we pass. ... But on the defensive end you don't want to be called that."

Gillispie, too, scoffed at the suggestion of Florida being only so-so defensively.

"I don't think any team could win as many games and lose as few games as they have without being a great defensive team," he said.

The Gators' average of 70.8 points allowed in league play ranks fourth.

Maybe it's semantics, but Calathes also preferred a term other than finesse. "I think we've gotten better pounding the ball inside," he said. "I think, obviously, we shoot the threes really well, so sometimes we settle for threes. I wouldn't say we're (a finesse team). I'd say we're more of a high-IQ team."

Yet without sounding demeaning, Patterson used the word "finesse" twice in describing Florida.

"Nick's a great finesse player," he said of Calathes. "He's able to do what he needs to do to help his team win.

"They are a great finesse team. If they need to go power, they bring in No. 30 (Kadji)."

Although Florida is 11-0 in games making eight or more three-pointers, it might be an overstatement to say the Gators live and die by the three-pointer. But it's not a gross exaggeration.

Florida overwhelmed Vanderbilt 94-69 when making 15 of 25 three-point shots. Then the Gators made seven of 23 three-point shots in a 79-63 loss at Tennessee.

"That's how this team is," Calathes said after Florida broke open a close game against Arkansas with eight three-pointers in the second half.

"We can hit 14 three-pointers in a game or we can hit two threes. When they fall, it's tough to beat us."

Kentucky has been giving up a lot of three-pointers lately. Ole Miss, South Carolina and Mississippi State collectively made 31 of 73 three-point shots (42.5 percent).

"I think we have to compete a little bit harder as far as contesting shots," Gillispie said. "You're talking a minor adjustment, not major. For the most part, we've been in the right position."

Gillispie often speaks of toughness and defense. When asked Monday about UK's problems scoring during the three-game losing streak, he reverted to form.

"I think it all comes from defense," he said. "When you play well defensively — pressure the ball, get in help position and rebound the basketball at the end of a possession — then you get a chance for run-out opportunities. We haven't been getting a lot of those lately because we haven't been playing well enough on the defensive end."

When asked about defending Calathes, Patterson advised taking "his eyes away" and "getting in his head."

If UK has its way, Calathes will shoot free throws — not layups — when he drives to the basket.

As Patterson said, "It all comes down to us using our strength."

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