VETTEL: Gators Paddling Upstream Against UK

When the Gators head to Lexington for the regular season finale with the Wildcats the Gators will be bucking the odds as far as the Florida-Kentucky rivalry is concerned. The Gators will be trying to re-write a rather depressing history against the SEC's premier program.

Florida takes a three-game winning streak against the 'Cats into Sunday's showdown. The Gators have never beaten Kentucky four times in a row and the current three-game streak is only the second in a rivalry that covers well over one hundred games. Only twice has Florida even won the home-and-home series in one season. The Gators beat Kentucky by three in December of 1966 and again the next month by 17. Florida's 1987-88 squad topped the 'Cats 58-56 and 83-76.

Florida has a miserable 27-84 record against Big Blue dating back to the first meeting in 1927. Of those 27 wins, 17 have come at home and three in the SEC Tournament. That means Florida's record in Lexington is 7-41. You know you've bee dominated in a "rivalry" when you can beat a team on its court 30 years in a row and still have a losing record there.

Kentucky has long dominated the SEC, but the numbers are simply staggering. The Wildcats have won or shared 43 SEC Titles compared to 42 for all other SEC members combined (Florida has three). The Gators won their first SEC Tournament Title last year, beating Kentucky which was seeking its 26th such crown.

Even looking at divisional play, which began in the 1991-92 season you see Kentucky way ahead of the pack. Kentucky has won or shared eleven Eastern division titles to four for the Gators. And Florida is tied with Arkansas for the second-most titles division in the league with four.

Plenty on the Line for Both

With both teams 9-6 in SEC play, the Gators and Wildcats have much to gain by posting a win Sunday. First of all, the winner gets second place in the Eastern Division and a first round bye in the conference tournament next week. The loser will have to play Thursday afternoon (3:15 Eastern time) up in Nashville against the #6 team from the West, most likely Mississippi State. The winner will get Thursday off and will face either Arkansas or the last place team in the East in Friday's late night game (9:45p.m.).

The winner will also strengthen its resume with regards to NCAA Tournament seeding. I believe the Gators need two wins to be assured of getting to play in Jacksonville while a strong tournament showing could propel Kentucky into a closer-to-home regional such as Dayton, Ohio.

Donovan Praises Kentucky Program

Florida Coach Billy Donovan spent five years as an assistant at Kentucky, beginning as a grad assistant in 1989 and leaving as Associate Head Coach in order to take the top job at Marshall. Donovan remains awed by Kentucky's history and consistency. "For fifty or sixty years Kentucky has dominated this league," Donovan said. "Nobody else in this conference can even compare or match the length of time and the success."

Donovan continued, "I think that every program in this league has had pockets of success. But there's nothing as long-standing as the Kentucky basketball tradition. And that's what we're trying to build here."

Kentucky Playing Better

The Gators routed Kentucky four weeks ago starting the 'Cats on a three-game losing streak that left them 5-5 in the SEC. But instead of fading away, Kentucky has turned it around. Coach Tubby Smith shook things up and began starting players based solely on their effort and play on the practice floor and that seems to have lit a fire under Rajon Rondo and Randolph Morris.

Kentucky is coming off a two-point win over Eastern Division Champ Tennessee and has won four of its last five games. Still, 19-10 is not what the faithful expect in Bluegrass Country. Donovan says sometimes expectations are not always realistic. He also says this Kentucky team is plenty dangerous.

"I still think they are a good team," Donovan said. "They are team that's good enough to win the SEC Tournament. They're good enough to go to the Final Four and play for the National Championship. I think everybody felt that way from the start of the season when they got Randolph Morris back."

That higher level of play means a repeat of the Gators 15-point win (95-80) win is pretty unlikely. Of course, that game was much closer for much of the night. Kentucky led the Gators by two at halftime and scored the first four points of the second half. Then the Gators played their best 14 minutes of the year, outscoring Kentucky 47-19 to go from down six to up by 22.

Taurean Green was phenomenal with 29 points and nine assists and Joakim Noah added 26 points and eight boards. While Noah's game has taken off since then, Green's has not. Green has averaged just 10.9 points a game in his last seven, after averaging 14.8 through 22 contests. He's made just 29 percent of his shots in those games and committed 27 turnovers.

The Gators are healthier now then they were then. Corey Brewer is now completely recovered from his ankle sprain and Lee Humphrey's shoulder is back in place. Humphrey played just eleven minutes in the first game and did not score.

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