Florida's three-point shooters present challenge for Kentucky's guards

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 11, 2013 

Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin cored over Auburn center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum on Saturday. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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  • 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

No guarded optimism, so to speak, for Kentucky freshman Archie Goodwin. He sounded eager and expectant going into the highly anticipated game at No. 7 Florida Tuesday night.

"Because I love playing in big games," he said Monday, "and these are the type of games I'm made for, and I know the team is made for. I feel we're going to go out there and get a win."

If so, Kentucky will need Goodwin and backcourt mate Ryan Harrow to play well.

"We know that, and our guards know that," UK Coach John Calipari said. "This is the challenge.

"You can't make excuses. You can't cop out."

During the Southeastern Conference teleconference earlier in the day, plain-talking South Carolina Coach Frank Martin put the onus on Kentucky's guards in a game that will determine whether Florida takes a two-game lead in the league race or finds itself tied with UK for first.

"Florida never gives you anything easy," Martin said. "So your guard play has to be extremely good." Opponents of the Gators must limit turnovers and low-percentage shots, he said.

"If you do either against Florida, they just make you pay," he said. "Florida tests your will with their defense. If your will is weak, then they just jump all over you."

Calipari, who felt the need to proclaim that he was not "down" on UK's guards, emphasized the need to contest Florida's three-point shooters. The Gators lead the SEC in three-point quality (40.9 percent accuracy) and quantity (99 made, or 20 more than No. 2 Vanderbilt).

"You've got to guard these guys and guard them off the three-point line," Calipari said, "and you've also got to be strong with the ball."

While acknowledging UK's talent (especially Nerlens Noel as a shot blocker and Goodwin as a fearless driver), Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin spoke of the pressure his team hoped to apply.

"We'll probably press a little bit," he said. "Maybe that will rattle them. I don't know."

Besides Wilbekin, Florida has two other guards averaging double-digit points in SEC play: Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton. Another guard, freshman Michael Frazier, has made 54.5 percent of his three-point shots (18 of 33) against SEC teams.

Although UK ranks No. 2 in three-point defense (SEC opponents are shooting 28.9 percent), Calipari scoffed at the notion that Noel's shot-blocking presence allows his teammates the freedom to pressure the perimeter.

"Doesn't matter if you're going under ball screens," Calipari said. To not follow instruction and go under such a screen, "That's very selfish," the UK coach said.

However well UK defends, the Gators are likely to get off three-point shots, Calipari said. The UK coach voiced greater concern about turnovers, which fuel Florida's transition game.

"Turnovers, you do have some control over," he said. " I'm watching, and they bang and bump and grind. And their guards really attacked. If you're in cool mode, you're getting killed in this game. You've got to be trying to survive every ounce of the ball and every trip up and down."

Goodwin acknowledged that he has merely been surviving of late. He has made more turnovers (29) than assists (22) in league play. He also has made only 36.8 percent of his shots against SEC teams.

"Sometimes I over-think things too much," he said. "Just thinking too much instead of letting my natural reactions take over."

Goodwin offered a similar explanation for his 1-for-20 three-point shooting in the last 11 games. When the teams tip it off in Gainesville, he will have not made a three-point shot in a month (1-for-4 from beyond the arc against Texas A&M on Jan. 12).

"Me over-thinking again," Goodwin said. "I know I can shoot them because I shoot them every day in practice, and I make them all the time."

Explaining again, Calipari suggested Goodwin needed to play for the team and not dwell on individual successes and failures within the game. On a turnover, a player should rush down and try to prevent a transition score rather than hang his head, the UK coach said. He held Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as an example of a player competing regardless of his statistical triumphs or setbacks.

The way Calipari talked, Florida will try to give Kentucky many mental and physical hurdles to overcome.

"Mainly, they're just going to come in and try to maul us," he said. "Blitzkrieg."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: UKbasketball.bloginky.com.

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