Gators Face Challenge at No. 1 Kentucky

Patric Young has been slowed. Whether it's the ankle injury that has plagued him in SEC play or the grind of the long season, the sophomore center is averaging just 3.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in the last two games. That will have to change on Tuesday for Florida to pull out a win at Rupp Arena. It will also come against Anthony Davis, one of the toughest big men in the country.

The matchup with Davis is tough on both ends of the floor. The freshman leads No. 1 Kentucky with 13.9 points and 10.1 rebounds. He's shooting 66.3% from the field, but he's even tougher to guard because you can't put him on the free throw line, where Davis shoots 69.8%, and expect him to struggle.

There isn't much debate about where Davis affects the game the most. His long arms allow him to cover space around the basket and swat almost anything in the paint. Davis averages 4.8 blocks per game and broke SEC freshman blocks record, previously held by Shaquille O'Neal. Keep in mind Davis still has seven more conference game to pad his lead.

"He's great at it, and he does it in a lot of different ways," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said about Anthony Davis. "I think any time you've got a guy like him to block shots, he does it on the ball and he does it off the ball. I think you have to be smart when you're attacking the basket. It's a lot easier blocking shots when you've got a free run or a free jump to go up there.

"He is very, very long. He alters the game and adds a different dimension at the basket for their team. It can't be a situation where we're not going to go to the basket or not post up because he's there. I just think you have to make wise choices, because when he does block shots, it certainly ignites them on a fast break and they're traditionally a terrific transition, fast-breaking team."

For Patric Young, the challenge might focus on being assertive. His jump hook has been blocked in the last two games by South Carolina forward Damontre Harris and Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli. After those blocks, Young's offensive game turned passive.

Young has been frustrated in recent games by his up-and-down play, but he still provides energy for the team. Donovan is trying to encourage him to focus on the positives and get through his bad play.

"I think the biggest thing for him is mentally pushing through," Donovan said. "I think he's in a situation, and I made the comment a couple weeks ago when people talked about his foot, and I just said that I was more concerned about his condition. I think with him being out as long as he has, you start to see a carry over, conditioning-wise, where he has to push himself through."

Donovan still sees the explosiveness that helps him know what Young is capable of. He can still explode off the floor for a block or give the Gators a dunk in transition to energize his teammates. That's what makes it tough for Donovan to take him off the floor. The potential to make the team better is still there, and once he gets through the conditioning issues and back to where he was before the injury, Young can be a key piece for No. 7 Florida's stretch run.

"There have been some moments, even in the past few games where he had a great minute or two bursts of athleticism with speed and quickness, and then he's had some times where he kind of disappears a little bit," Donovan said. "I think that as he starts to get more and more comfortable, him pushing through that will happen. He's got that energy going, he's got that motor going and he's somewhat rested, then he's really effective.

"I think his inefficiency in the past couple of games has had to do with the fact that he has not played with that motor. He has to mentally push through that fatigue whether it is mental or physical."

What makes the Wildcats tough is how complete and well-balanced they are. Davis is only the starting point. Five Wildcats are averaging double figures while freshman Marquis Teague, who has started every game this season, is averaging 9.6 points and a team-high 4.3 assists.

It comes down to recruiting. Kentucky head coach John Calipari has brought plenty of talent to Lexington. Donovan even went as far as to say he didn't know if any program had brought in as much talent as Calipari brought to Kentucky in the last three years. It produces teams that have talent all over the floor.

"They can win with the game going up and down the floor, they can win grinding it out," Donovan said. "They can win with their defense, they can win with their offense, they shoot well from beyond the three-point line. They have a lot of answers with personnel at every single spot. They really don't have a lot of weaknesses in their team."

Donovan spent five years as an assistant coach at Kentucky. He knows the expectations and passion that exists in the Wildcats' fan base. The history of the program and the success Calipari has had in Lexington and his previous stops is setting up an easy choice for recruits across the country.

"I think if you look at Kentucky's program and the history of their program, like anything else, there is always going to be some dips – there are peaks and valleys in everybody's program," said Donovan, who leads his team into an arena where Kentucky holds a 48-game home winning streak. "But if you look over a 50-75 year span of Kentucky basketball, they have been the measuring stick. Being able to maintain a high-level match, I think for us or for anyone else in this league, is something that I think we're all striving for."

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