UK basketball notes: After two-month absence, Cats return to AP poll at No. 25

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 11, 2013 

  • 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

Kentucky returned to The Associated Press Top 25. The Cats are at No. 25 ... with a bullet, Archie Goodwin suggested.

"We're not where we want to be," Goodwin said Monday.

When asked where that might be, Goodwin smiled slyly.

Then speaking slowly to add emphasis, Goodwin said, "I'm ... pretty ... sure ... we want to be in the No. 1 spot. That's what we're aiming at right now."

Teammate Kyle Wiltjer dismissed UK's return to The AP Top 25 for the first time since November. "I don't really pay attention to that kind of stuff," he said.

But Goodwin apparently does. He sounded aware of how a ranking, like fame, can be fleeting.

"We were in the top 10," he said, "but lost two in a row. And we were out."

Kentucky was No. 8 in the poll of Nov. 26. The Cats fell out of the Top 25 after losses at Notre Dame on Nov. 29 and at home to Baylor on Dec. 1.

Gator gushing

Southeastern Conference coaches have been gushing over the Gators. Here's a sampling:

■ "I don't know if I've seen any team in the country pass the ball as efficiently as they do," Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said. "We all as coaches try to challenge kids. 'Play the game. Try to be as good as you can be every possession.' And that's what Florida does. Whether they're up 20 (or not), you'd never know from the beginning of the game to where they're up 20 with four to play.

"It's very easy to watch the clock and coast to the finish line. They don't do that. They defend you to the bitter end. Their execution does not wane from beginning to end."

■ "They trust one another," Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. "In basketball, trust is so big on offense and on defense. If something breaks down in one department, you're going to have Patric Young coming over or Erik Murphy coming over to either block a shot or take a charge."

■ "On offense, they're a real machine," LSU Coach Johnny Jones said. " ... Guys understand exactly what they should do and they make the game look easy."

■ "A lot of teams will beat you with their defense or they'll beat you with their offense," Georgia Coach Mark Fox said. "Florida can beat you with either one, and often are beating teams with both.

"Their experience is a huge advantage for them."

■ "They play through the system," South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said. "It's easier to defend one real good player. Hard to defend a team like Florida. So many guys, and the ball never sticks."

'We feel ready'

Wiltjer noted that a sellout crowd at Florida and a highly ranked opponent won't present a new challenge for UK.

"We feel ready," he said. "We've had a lot of tests before, and I feel we're improving every day. So it's going to be a great battle for us."

Is UK ready?

UK Coach John Calipari suggested that Florida presents a unique challenge. The Cats' playing experience at Florida consists of Wiltjer's eight minutes last season and cameos by Jon Hood (three minutes) and Jarrod Polson (one minute) two years ago.

"They haven't played a team that's been there, done that, and a team that's hungry to beat us," Calipari said.

While you could quibble that Louisville fit that description, Florida players are mindful of five straight losses to UK.

"Obviously, they beat us three times last year, and that's really embarrassing," point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. " ... It's always going to be in the back of our minds that they beat us three times last year, but it's a new year and we have things that we're focused on this year." Learn from Hogs?

Florida beat its first eight SEC opponents by an average of 24.6 points. Then — poof! — the Gators lost 80-69 at Arkansas.

Might UK gain valuable insight from the Hogs?

"The best thing I can tell you (is) if you come out and make nine of your first 10 shots, you really got a chance to get them," Calipari quipped.

Arkansas made 14 of its first 18 shots against Florida. That helped build a 23-point lead inside the first 11 minutes.

Wilbekin equaled a season-high 15 shots against Arkansas. As a result, he came off the bench against Mississippi State on Saturday.

"It was a wake-up call ... to let me know how I needed to play and how hard I need to play every day just to be at my best," Wilbekin said of the benching. " ... I got kinda carried away. Being down by 20 made you feel like you had to do something, and I probably forced plays."

Noel makes history

For a fourth straight week, the SEC named Nerlens Noel its Freshman of the Week. He averaged 10 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in victories over South Carolina and Auburn.

The last SEC player to be named Freshman of the Week four straight times was UK's John Wall in November-December, 2009.

No player is believed to have ever won the award, once known as Newcomer of the Week, five straight times.

Game Day tickets

ESPN's College Gameday returns to Rupp Arena on Feb. 23. Tickets for the show will be available starting Wednesday at 6 p.m., online through Ticketmaster. Tickets are free.

There is a limit of eight tickets per household. UK students may pick up a GameDay ticket at the UK ticket office Tuesday and Wednesday.

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

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