The #1 Gators basketball team invades Lexington tomorrow night to face off against their basketball nemesis, the #18 Kentucky Wildcats, in an SEC East battle.
This season, from the outside looking in, seems to not be the typical, overly-successful Kentucky-like campaign. Amongst contant criticism of head coach Tubby Smith and this year's squad, the Wildcats still have managed to post a 7-2 record in-conference, which is good enough to be second best in the SEC. And somehow they've managed to still be the most looked-forward to, as well as the most "scary," conference opponent on the Gators schedule -- especially at Rupp Arena.
Kentucky is 12-1 at home on the season, including a 4-1 record in SEC play. Their only home blemish on the season came at the hands of an extremely hot Vanderbilt team by 5 points, a game that preceded a second loss in a row at Georgia -- a two game losing streak that helped add fuel to an already burning fire in Lexington.
Since then Kentucky has won three games in a row, and could give a nice boost to their season with a win over the top-rated team in the land tomorrow night.
The Gators are a program that has never really had success in Rupp Arena, despite having beaten the Cats 4 straight times over the last two seasons. The Gators took last year's contest at Rupp, 79-64, but it hadn't been since 1998 that the Gators won a game in the Wildcats' house -- a game that included Gator greats such as Jason Williams, Greg Stolt and Kenyan Weaks. Needless to say, the combination of a hungry Kentucky squad, a nationally-televised game and the presence of a top ranked target on Florida's back will make for a tough contest for the Gators tomorrow night.
But, as any of you who have read my thoughts on Gators basketball knows, I'm always cautiously optimistic when it comes to the UF hoops team...especially with a team like Kentucky. I'm setting it up to ease possible pain that would come from a loss to the Wildcats, a basketball program that I have come to despise, while at the same time respect.
I STILL really dislike you, Tayshaun (AP).
Growing up a pretty big Gators basketball fan, I saw it all from the Kentucky program. I saw them continually blow us out with no mercy under Pitino. I saw Kentucky beat us when we were an upstart team. I saw them win multiple SEC championships and saw them have continual success in the postseason, contending for a national title almost every season.
Basically, when they're not doing these things, the college basketball world just doesn't feel right.
Although it may not be "right," I'm not complaining. The Gators now have the upper-hand, trying to beat the Wildcats for the 5th straight time (the first time a team would have done that deed since 1977), and have the chance to show their dominance over the SEC with a big win over their historical bully. This is why these UF-UK games have become so exciting over the last couple of years -- while it may not signal a permanent changing of the guard in the landscape of SEC basketball, it sure is fun to prove that the Gators basketball program is one that will continually compete in the upper echelon of not only the conference, but the nation as well.
And while I'm being cautious about getting my hopes up too much for a win tomorrow night, don't get me wrong, I think the Gators should win this game. They have the better squad coming into this game, and their talent level combined with their unselfish balance should give them the win. If they continue to play the way they have been in-conference, come focused and don't let the Rupp crowd get to them, this game should end up just like every other SEC game has been this season -- with a victorious Florida staying on top of college basketball.
Here's to partying like it's 1998 tomorrow night, while winning like it's 2007.