These Aren't Your Father's Wildcats

There was a time when knowing Kentucky was coming to town would create a combination of excitement and fear. It was exciting that one of the nation's top programs was coming to Gainesville to help fill up Florida Gym and later the O'Connell Center. The fear came from the realization that the Gators were overmatched and outclassed most of the time.

But that was then, and this is now. Saturday the Kentucky Wildcats will try to end a six-game losing streak to the upstarts in Orange and Blue. That may not seem all that remarkable, but consider the fact that only one school (Notre Dame) has ever beaten Kentucky seven straight times. That makes it the most significant head-to-head accomplishment in Gator hoops history.

The streak began with a one-point win (53-52) in Gainesville at the end of the 2005 season followed by a 17-point Gator domination in the SEC Tournament final. The six wins have been by an average of 14 points.

Kentucky limps into Gainesville after a loss to Mississippi State on Tuesday. The Wildcats are 7-8 on the year and have split their first two SEC games. They have never brought a losing record into Gainesville before and you know they will be pretty determined not to take one back to Lexington.

Gator coach Billy Donovan was asked if it was "jarring" to see Kentucky with a 7-8 record.

"I don't know if it's jarring," he said. "There are a lot of good teams out there in college basketball. They started the season ranked, and you're not going to start the season ranked unless you have good players in your program. Certainly they've battled some injuries with some key guys in (Derrick) Jasper and (Jodie) Meeks."

Donovan of course spent five seasons on the Kentucky bench as an assistant to Rick Pitino. He knows first hand what the program is all about and how important Kentucky is to the rest of the SEC, including the Gators.

"I made the comment when I first came to Florida that the one thing that's great about having a program like Kentucky in this league is you get a chance to see the level, the standard the measuring stick of what's been accomplished in the game of basketball not for the last decade but for the last 50 years," Donovan said. "Everybody's passionate there and wants to see the program do well. I'm sure the kids are very passionate. They are more than capable of putting a string together and going into any game and realistically be favored to win."

Donovan said the Gators and their fans would be making a mistake to read too much into the Wildcat's mediocre won/loss record at this stage.

"Their record is not at this point in time going to have an impact on how we approach the game. I think sometimes you look at a record like that, and the first thing that comes to your mind is this is the way the year is going to go for them. I don't believe that at all."

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel


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