Cats walking tall, but Gators hoping their three-pointers will fall

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 6, 2012 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

Woody Allen once observed that he did not want to be mellow. "If I get too mellow," he said, "I ripen, and then rot."

Similarly, Kentucky Coach John Calipari wants to "cal-ibrate" his team's confidence. Coming off two weeks of overwhelming dominance, he spoke of humility as a hedge against hubris.

"It's an easy transition from swagger to arrogance," Calipari said on a Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference Monday. "That's when you get beat."

No. 8 Florida brings its own confidence into Rupp Arena on Tuesday night.

"We have the 'swag' where we're going to compete hard and try to get the win," freshman guard Bradley Beal said after Florida beat Vanderbilt last weekend. "We're not going in there with any doubts just because they are Kentucky."

On Monday, Beal spoke of Kentucky's 48 straight home victories — the longest active streak in the nation — as motivation, not as cause for retreat.

"That puts pressure on us," he said, "but it also puts pressure on them because we're coming into their place, and they have to try to keep the winning streak going. We're going to try to come in and end that streak."

Florida Coach Billy Donovan welcomed his players speaking confidently.

"I'd be disappointed if he said we're not confident," Donovan said.

No. 1 Kentucky comes off winning its last four games by an average margin of 21.5 points. Two of the victims, LSU Coach Trent Johnson and South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn, noted the need to treat wounds to their team's psyches after the shattering experience of being pummeled by Kentucky.

Meanwhile, Calipari cautioned against overconfidence.

"You have to understand what happened in the last two weeks," he said. "Why have we changed (for the better)? Well, let's not get away from that."

While acknowledging that teams can peak too early, Calipari noted the need for improvement. For instance, more consistent effort from Doron Lamb.

All is preparation for the NCAA Tournament, he said. So what if Kentucky hasn't beaten a team with a winning SEC record (opponents have had a combined league record of 23-48)? So what if the remaining opponents are a combined 34-22 in the SEC?

"It doesn't matter to me," Calipari said of the debate about tipoff times, Thursday-Saturday schedules and other conversation starters. "Everything is building toward us playing well in March."

Terrence Jones, whose emergence as a physical presence Calipari credited with helping fuel UK's recent dominance, defined the "swag" that Beal mentioned.

"Confidence in your own way and be proud playing and believing in yourself," Jones said before adding, "I think we've got a lot of it, too."

Florida's way includes three-point shooting as a signature component. Although the Gators lead the nation with an average of 10.3 three-pointers per game, Donovan downplayed the importance of the trey.

"I look more at our field-goal percentage from the field and, obviously, from three," he said. "What kind of shots we're getting. ... In this league, I don't think you can be totally one-dimensional."

Florida, 19-4 and second in the SEC at 7-1, ranks No. 12 nationally in three-point accuracy (40.2 percent). Here's another stat: In six games on the opponents' court, the Gators have made 39.2 percent of their three-point shots, which would tie for 21st-best nationally.

"Look, you can't stop a team from shooting threes," Calipari said. "You can stop layups or do things if they're trying to post you every time. But to say, 'OK, we're stopping the three-point shots,' we're not.

"They're going to get them. You just want to make sure they're guarded."

With power forward Erik Murphy making 46.1 percent of his three-point attempts, Florida can put four threats from beyond the arc on the floor.

"You just know that they're going to take 30 however you guard it," Calipari said. "... If they make 20, we've had a heck of a start."

No UK opponent has ever made 20 three-pointers. The most is 18, by Sam Houston State on Nov. 19, 2009. UK won that game 102-92.

The second-most ever made against Kentucky? Georgia made 15 of 30 on Jan. 26, 1999. UK won that game, too.

It can be hard to be humble.

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