UK Men's Basketball

UK turns on 'Showtime' too early

Kentucky's inability to consistently transform early leads into crushing victories concerned John Calipari as he prepared his team to play at Florida on Tuesday night.

Calipari, who is two shy of equalling Adolph Rupp's national record of 64 straight conference victories (1945-50), cited his team's inexperience as a factor.

Throw in a game at arguably the Southeastern Conference's toughest venue for visiting teams and the UK coach sensed danger.

"We get people down, but we don't put them away," Calipari said on an SEC coaches' teleconference on Monday. " ... When you go on the road and that happens, you can't stop that avalanche. It just bowls you over."

Such a scenario "scares me more than anything else," Calipari said.

At 16-0 off to the program's best start since Rupp's Runts (23-0 in 1965-66), Kentucky has played only one game on the opponent's home court: a 90-73 victory at Indiana. The youthful Cats showed plenty of grit that day. After falling behind by eight early, UK ignored the crowd's hostility to win going away.

Yes, Calipari conceded, but he said of Florida, "this is an even better team. It's probably a tougher environment. We'll see if we're ready for it."

Calipari, who acknowledges how every opponent makes him anxious, saw the failure to put away teams as a potential self-inflicted defeat. It's something he said he's seen before.

"My teams have always done this," he said. "They come out. They go and they do their thing. They think at some point they can back up."

A senior-laden team builds a double-digit lead and looks to expand it, he said.

A team like Kentucky dependent on freshmen and sophomores ...?

"It's showtime," Calipari said. "Wait till you see this. Watch the behind-the-head layup versus I'm making the play to get this thing to 17-18-20. Now it's Billy Ballgame."

Translation: the game's over.

"We're not ready for that yet," the UK coach said. "That's what's scary.

"What happens is we'll get caught. You all will sit there and say, 'They caught you, didn't they, coach?' Yeah."

Freshman reserve Daniel Orton noted how Calipari asked UK's older players to share what it's like to play in Florida's O'Connell Center with the Rowdy Reptiles student section at full blast.

"There's a lot of pressure on us to do well," Orton said, "and see how we do on the road."

Orton predicted that UK players will handle the pressure and ignore any bile spewing from the courtside student sections.

"Because of the fact we have a great team," he said. "And we have great leaders on the team. Everybody will come together and we'll have our minds straight."

Orton was not so sure about Kentucky developing the knack for knocking out a wobbling opponent.

"I really don't know the problem," he said. "Hopefully, we'll figure it out and start blowing people out a lot."

If the topic is Kentucky's fatal flaws, Florida Coach Billy Donovan might need convincing. He said the Cats were "in the mix" as national championship contenders.

Donovan noted many areas of excellence from John Wall's point guard play (which garners National Player of the Year talk) to UK's fully loaded frontcourt.

Vanderbilt scored 40 points in the paint in beating Florida 95-87 last weekend. The Commodores also got 18 second-chance points. That nullified Florida snapping out of a shooting slump by making 13 of 27 three-point shots.

Another statistic reflects Florida's lack of inside punch. Of the 12 SEC teams, the Gators have shot the fewest free throws (280 in 15 games). That's 24 fewer than the next-to-last team, South Carolina, and 118 fewer than Kentucky.

Florida cited foul trouble — not necessarily a poor front line — as the problem at Vandy. Vernon Macklin, a 6-foot-10 transfer from Georgetown, and backup big man Erik Murphy, a freshman, fouled out after playing 14 and 13 minutes, respectively.

"That hurt against Vanderbilt," said forward Chandler Parsons, who sat after picking up his second foul with about eight minutes to go in the first half. "Obviously with Vern and Erik those are two of our big guys that weren't able to play at the end of the game so we were a little undersized. We just have to be smarter and contain the ball so that our big guys don't have to step up as much and take too many fouls."

But even if the Gators' big men stay on the floor against UK, it might not be enough, Donovan said.

"If our frontcourt was a phenomenal frontcourt, they'd still pose problems," Donovan said of the Cats. "Kentucky poses problems for everybody they play."

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