Big Blue Preview: Kentucky at Florida
No. 6 Kentucky has played one game on an opponent’s home floor this season. However, the Cats have not yet faced an environment like the one they will face on Saturday.
Kentucky’s lone road game so far this season was at Louisville, but a large contingent of UK fans were in the KFC Yum! Center that night, so the contest did not have a true road game feel.
That will change on Saturday afternoon when the Cats travel to Gainesville to face Florida. The Exactech Center is always loud and provides a challenge for all opponents visiting.
For Kentucky’s freshmen, this will be their first true road test. Luckily for the younger Cats, there are players on the UK roster who have played in hostile environments before. Among those are Tre Mitchell, who knows what to expect from the Rowdy Reptiles.
“You’ve got to expect to hear absolutely everything,” Mitchell said. “People are invested in trying to get into people’s minds.”
Mitchell believes there is a good reason for that.
“What I tell guys is, there’s a reason behind it,” Mitchell said. “When someone is trying to get you out of your game, there’s a reason. There’s a fear of what you could be capable of.”
Mitchell has learned to not only embrace road games, but to enjoy them.
“I’m more excited for the away games,” he said. “I’ve experienced Rupp (Arena) and I love it but I know that wearing this name across your chest brings a whole another level to fan bases. There’s going to be arenas where people don’t show up for their teams all year and just because we’re coming to town, it’s sold out. It’s just part of the territory and I’m looking forward to it.”
Tipoff for Saturday’s game is at 12:30 ET and the contest can be seen on ESPN.
Last Time Out: Illinois State Recap
No. 8 Kentucky has been very good at sharing the ball this season, especially in the Wildcats’ nine victories. That trend continued Dec. 29 as the Cats recorded 23 assists in a 96-70 win over Illinois State.
In Kentucky’s victories this season, the Cats have averaged 20.2 assists per game. In UK’s two losses, the Cats have assisted on an average of 14 baskets.
Against Illinois State, several Cats got in on the action. In fact, six Kentucky players recorded an assist in the game. Four UK players had at least four assists, led by Rob Dillingham, who had seven.
Antonio Reeves led Kentucky in scoring again on Friday, scoring 27 points against his former team. That followed Reeves’ 30-point effort against Louisville. Dillingham had 16 points, Reed Sheppard had 11 points, five rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks.
D.J. Wagner was the fourth UK player in double figures, scoring 14 points and handing out three assists.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari likes how his team is playing through 12 games.
“We’ve got a good team,” Calipari said. “We pass the ball, we shoot the ball.”
One area of concern from the game was rebounding. Calipari knows that his team needs to continue to improve in that particular area.
“They blocked us out. We didn’t go get any balls,” Calipari said. “We got a few, but not like they did. That will concern me but we’ve got time.”
Kentucky owns a 69-20 all-time mark in Southeastern Conference openers, including an 11-3 mark under the direction of head coach John Calipari. UK fell 89-75 at Missouri a season ago to begin the league slate.
This will be the first time under Calipari that the Wildcats will open the league slate with Florida. The last time the team’s met in UK’s first conference game of the season was the 1998-99 season with the Cats winning 93-58 at home.