WKYT | Lexington, Kentucky | Sports

Cats Look To Snap 3-Game Slide

Kentucky's players know coach Billy
Gillispie well enough to understand there's no such thing as a
must-win game because that would mean the others are somehow less
important.
That said, they acknowledge few regular season games have
featured seemingly higher stakes for Kentucky (16-7, 5-3
Southeastern Conference) than Tuesday night's nationally televised
showdown with rival Florida (19-4, 6-2).
Should the Wildcats win, they could move into a tie for the SEC
East lead. A loss and they could plummet to as low as fourth in a
down year for the conference. That would put the nation's all-time
winningest program in serious jeopardy of missing the NCAA
tournament for the first time since 1991.
Perhaps most significantly, a loss would be Kentucky's fourth
straight in conference play, matching the second-longest slide in
the team's decorated history. Three of those losses would have come
at Rupp Arena, where Kentucky was unbeaten during league play last
season.
"We've just got to come out and play with pride," freshman
Darius Miller said. "We can't let them get three straight wins at
Rupp Arena. That should never happen. People should be intimidated
to come to Rupp."
The Wildcats haven't played in a week. That 66-57 home loss to
Mississippi State sparked a postgame locker room dustup of various
intensity, depending on whom you ask.
Gillispie and guard Jodie Meeks say it wasn't heated. Center
Patrick Patterson said emotions were high, but it was necessary.
"It was pretty nasty back there, but everything that was said
needed to be said," Patterson said. "I think it brought us
closer, especially in practice. It made it a lot more intensive."
Intense Kentucky fans have expressed their nervousness lately,
cascading boos down on the Wildcats during the Mississippi State
loss. Gillispie says he sympathizes with them.
"If I were a fan, I would be getting restless too because we're
getting beat," Gillispie said. "Fan is short for 'fanatic.' We
have fanatics here. That is a positive, not a negative. When we
play well, we have the best home court advantage in the world, but
we have to give them a reason to help us."
Part of winning back the fan base comes from making big plays,
Gillispie said. In the past, that has meant dishing the ball to
Meeks, who last month set a Kentucky record with 54 points against
Tennessee. However, teams are game-planning around that now, and
even Meeks acknowledges he probably won't see many more open shots
anytime soon.
"You never know, but I doubt it," Meeks said.
Gillispie says a balanced offense starts with better defense,
although he said Kentucky's defense hasn't been bad. The Wildcats
have held opponents to a league-low 37.3 percent shooting
percentage.
"You're talking about a minor adjustment, not major,"
Gillispie said. "That's usually the difference between any team
winning or losing. When it's time to make a play, you have to make
that play. A lot of little bitty things, but those little bitty
things add up to wins and losses."
As for Florida, Gillispie considers the Gators underrated, which
surprises him considering they are not far removed from
back-to-back national titles and have a likely future Hall of Fame
coach in Billy Donovan.
With surehanded sophomore point guard Nick Calathes running the
offense and leading the team with 18.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per
game, much of Kentucky's game planning this week involved stopping
him.
"He changes pace better than anybody," Gillispie said. "He
really understands how to go fast, then slow down and get you
again."
Patterson said Florida presents several challenges, but he isn't
ready to push the panic button on the once-promising season, win or
lose.
"We still have time," he said. "We're not in that bad of
shape."


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