Showdown features contrasting styles

The Southeastern Conference's elite teams meet on Saturday night in Lexington with two separate roads traveled to this point in the season. For Florida, it's all about four starting seniors and the leadership they've provided through the season. For Kentucky, it's a starting lineup with five talented freshmen that continue to improve and get comfortable as the season goes on.

The Gators have used their experience to earn a 22-2 record and 11-0 record in conference play. It hasn't been as smooth for the Wildcats, who are 19-5 this year with a 9-2 mark in conference play. The youth is a big reason. While forward Julius Randle (15.8 points/9.9 rebounds) and guard James Young (14.1 points/4.2 rebounds) have provided consistent production, but rest of the team has been a mixed bag.

But Billy Donovan doesn't want to make much out of that part of the matchup. Now 24 games into the season, the Wildcats' freshmen are no longer newcomers to the college game.

"I think people are going to talk about that, but I don't think when you look at a guy like Kasey Hill or (the Kentucky freshmen), those guys have played a lot of basketball against a lot of good players," Donovan said before the Gators left Gainesville on Friday. "All their (freshmen) have logged an enormous amount of minutes. They've grown, too. Right now at this point in time, you've got a very experienced team in terms of roles, responsibilities and what they're going through. You've got a very talented team if not the most talented team in the country."

For Florida senior Patric Young, facing a young Wildcats team isn't new. It's the way fifth-year Kentucky coach John Calipari has recruited since he took over, and seniors on the roster don't happen very often.

"It's been like that almost every year I've played against them," Young said with a laugh. "It's nothing new. It's all I really know in playing Kentucky. The only seniors I remember, the older guys they had were (DeAndre) Liggins and Darius Miller. They come out running and gunning."

While the youth of Kentucky is easy to see looking at its roster -- there are nine freshmen on the entire roster -- the Florida coach doesn't think it eliminates talent. The Wildcats have a sure-fire top-10 NBA Draft pick in Randle with Young also having a chance to go that high. Center Willie Cauley-Stein, who comes off the bench, could also go in the NBA Draft lottery.

They have more talent than their 19-5 record, and Donovan doesn't see many teams across the country that have more talent.

"Top to bottom, the most talented if not the most talented team in the country," Donovan said. "Every position that they've got on the floor there they've got scoring ability they've got size, they've got athleticism. They've got great length. I think top to bottom this is the most talented team in the country."

The atmosphere on Saturday is another barrier, as the game is the best one on the national schedule for the weekend. College Gameday will be in attendance at Rupp Arena, and a raucous crowd is expected by the 9 p.m. tipoff. Winning at Rupp Arena is never easy, but Saturday's challenges help the Wildcats head into Saturday as a three-point favorite.

"It's always a great environment to play in," Donovan said. "Whenever you go to Rupp to play, it's always a great environment. They've got tremendous support. It's electric. It doesn't matter if it's a nine o'clock game, noon game, three o'clock in the afternoon, week day or weekend -- it's always a great environment in there to go in and play."

Fightin Gators Top Stories