No. 2 Gators enjoying 17-game win streak
Florida’s bench was beaming in the minutes after knocking off Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Saturday night.
Navigating a week with road tests against the Wildcats and Volunteer can elicit such a feeling.
On Monday, the Gators (23-2, 12-0 Southeastern Conference) moved up to No. 2 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll and own a three game lead in the standings with an easier foe in Auburn (12-11, 4-8) on tap Wednesday.
Fending off complacency might be the bigger opposition, though.
Yet coach Billy Donovan said he doesn’t envision that becoming much of a problem.
“We’re trying to — regardless of anything else that’s going on — focus on us being the best we can be and how we need to go about practice every day, how do we need to go about preparation,” Donovan said. “For me as a coach and I think our guys, that’s the only thing that matters. It’s the only thing that’s really important.”
The Gators’ veteran core — seniors Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Will Yeguete and Patric Young — hasn’t appeared mildly distracted during a winning streak that stands at 17 games.
There’s also the fact the Gators, the defending SEC champions, are also accustomed to success with three-consecutive Elite Eight trips in the month of March.
Widely considered a favorite to land a No. 1 seed entering the NCAA tournament, Florida’s measuring stick and comparable peers call other conference’s home.
That said, Donovan knows six games are left in the regular season, including another go-around with Kentucky, and the SEC tournament.
Basically, there’s plenty to keep the Gators, who lead the SEC in scoring margin at plus-13.4 points, occupied in the short term.
“There’s going to be a lot of ebbs and flows and changes and stuff, and we never talk about that stuff in terms of a seed or anything else like that,” Donovan said. “To me, it just gives your team way too much to think about.”
’Cats wild about March
Meanwhile, Kentucky coach John Calipari doesn’t seemed concerned the Wildcats (19-6, 9-3) have considerable ground to make up.
Perhaps, it has to do with the standard set in Lexington.
“Every game we play is to prepare us for March, and that’s how we appraoch it,” Calipari said Monday.
If the 18th-ranked ’Cats do well in the SEC or its tournament, it’s precisely because “they’re not the goal,” he added.
Sure, Kentucky had a shot to topple Florida — and close to within a game of first — but Calipari left the nine-point loss buoyed. Considering he’s at times called out his team for its collective focus, Monday amounted to high-praise for youth-filled Kentucky.
In fact, Calipari thinks the Wildcats be dangerous in March.
“I’m happy with my team,” he said. “What that game showed me? We’re as good as anybody in the country. We can play with anybody. Now, let’s shore this up, let’s get this chemistry together and this energy together.”
Andy Kennedy’s tweaking of Ole Miss’ lineup certainly was notable Saturday.
Against Georgia, the Rebels coach sat guard Marshall Henderson, who leads Ole Miss at 19.5 points per game.
So was Henderson, who sat three games this season due to a suspension, back in the dog house?
No, not at all.
“He’d just really been struggling with his shooting percentages in road games,” Kennedy said.
True enough, considering Henderson was hitting at just a 37.8 percent clip arriving in Athens, Ga., to face the Bulldogs.
“I was just trying to do something to change the way he approached the game, allow him to see it for a few minutes from the bench,” Kennedy said.
It seemed to work to a degree, with Henderson scoring a game-high 24 points and shooting 6-of-13 from the floor.
“I don’t know if that directly affected his performance, but he came out and made shots,” Kennedy said.
Georgia eyes postseason
Keep an eye, too, on Georgia’s postseason prospects.
The Bulldogs (14-10, 8-4) don’t have the résumé for a NCAA tournament bid right now, but a trip to the NIT might be feasible.
On Monday, coach Mark Fox’s squad moved up to No. 88 in the RPI, and their remaining slate — namely games against South Carolina and Mississippi State — means a double-digit SEC win total is a possibility.
Yet it’s a topic coach Mark Fox tried to downplay.
“We don’t concern ourselves with what other people say,” Fox said. “Our focus has always been and will remain on the next game, and if you do that, the rest seems to take care of itself.”
With a four-game win streak right now, the Bulldogs also have momentum, sitting third in standings.
“I don’t think we’re surprised,” Fox said. “We’ve certainly matured and adjusted and learned how this group could play.”