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Preview/Gamethread: UK Hoops at Florida

After a heartbreaking loss to Vanderbilt at home, the Cats begin a tough test on the road at 1 PM EST today. First on the itinerary: the Florida Gators.

It would be really nice to have Matthew smiling at the end of today's battle.
It would be really nice to have Matthew smiling at the end of today's battle.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Road games, never easy, are really starting to become a physical and mental battle for our Wildcats. It's enough to make you long for the days when no one outside a few fanbases even cared about basketball. (I kid, I kid.) The men fell after a valiant effort last night at Kansas and today the women head to the O'Dome, where every Kentucky fan has seen more than one fantastic team in blue struggle.

For the ladies, this is just the first of a series of battles on the road. After Florida, who is currently tied for 3rd place in the SEC standings, the Cats have a rematch against #2 Carolina in Columbia on Thursday. They then play at Vandy on Valentine's Day, and wrap up with a trip to Starkvegas that Thursday to face #13 Mississippi State. Add to that the fact the Cats have fallen to 8th place in the SEC standings, and desperately need each and every win they can get to boost their odds of making it to Championship Sunday in Jacksonville. But hey, no pressure.

The Vandy game remains a head scratcher, because we really should not have lost that game. Vandy shot well, 43.9% vs. UK's 45.9% but it was the timing of that shooting that sealed the deal. The Cats hit 55% from the first 20 minutes, and then a disastrous 37.5% in the next 20. They were 40% from the three in the first half, and a truly horrific 11% in the next. We also had some odd performances. Makayla Epps, a 78% free throw shooter on the season hit just 57% of her attempts Thursday. Crack shooter Maci Morris was 1 for 6 from the field and 0 for 4 from beyond the arc. Taylor Murray, all 5' 6" of her, had more rebounds (3) than points (2). To their credit, that Cats only had 12 turnovers, but on a day when shooting was tough, rebounds weren't happening and there was one lonely little block? The team who wanted it more won, and Thursday night that team was Vandy.

So how can the Cats turn those frowns upside down and walk out of Gainesville with the W?

  • Get lethal on defense, particularly in guarding the 3: Florida is currently leading the league in points per game (80.7) as well as in three point shooting, a position Kentucky held until Thursday night.
  • Laser focused ball handling: Florida isn't leading the conference in shooting because they're awesome. They're actually only hitting 43.9%, good enough for 6th in the league. Florida is making all those shots because they are an awesome group of thieves, averaging 13.1 per game, and because they excel at forcing the opposition to turn the ball over, and they convert those incredibly well. We HAVE to keep our eyes open and effectively maintain the ball throughout the possession. No weak or silly passes, no desperate heaves across the court. And we have to communicate better, period.
  • Intensity, effort and leadership: Our freshmen are rattled, and it shows. They've never played on a stage this big, and they are terrified of messing up. That kind of pressure sabotages players, as they overthink and make silly mistakes. Even some of our veterans are caving in. But this is the SEC! Ladies, you came to Kentucky to play the best of the best - time to put on the boots and embrace the challenge. If you miss a shot, you need to shake it off. If you get fouled, learn from it and don't do it again. If a teammate isn't pulling their weight, you need to let them know you're holding them accountable for their actions. Much of this leadership falls onto Janee and Makayla but they're not the only ones who should be walking that particular walk.
  • Play fast but don't let Florida set the pace: Florida shoots like crazy  - 67.9 attempts per game to UK's 61.8 - knowing eventually their shots will fall. They try and shake you up with their speed, then steal your ball and destroy your confidence. Don't fall for that, Cats.

I know this preview sounded negative, but sometimes the picture isn't overly bright. That said, I absolutely think Kentucky can pull this game off if they keep the right mental picture, play tough but smart, and listen to the coaching staff.  And happily, we can watch the battle! Today's game is at 1 PM EST on the SEC Network, where Georgia coaching legend Andy Landers will help call the action along with Courtney Lyle. As ever, Neil Price will be radio voice extraordinaire over on 630WLAP. However you tune in, you definitely want to catch this will have some serious impact on the Cats' roadmap for March.

Until gametime, Cat fans - GO BIG BLUE!