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Wildcats in ‘good spirits’ going into showdown at Florida, ready to ‘give it all we’ve got’

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky is used to what to expect on the road and won’t be overwhelmed when it visits Florida Saturday in Gainesville.

“I heard that it’s pretty crazy, but at this point we’re pretty used to it, playing at Louisville and playing at Auburn,” Kentucky guard Jemarl Baker said. “We’ve just got to go out there and give it all we’ve got.”

The Wildcats (17-3, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) carry a seven-game winning streak into the contest. Kentucky, ranked No. 7 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25, overwhelmed Vanderbilt in its last contest earlier this week in Nashville. Kentucky’s performance was impressive, especially coming off a 71-63 win over No. 11 Kansas in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.

Tyler Herro and Nick Richards at Vanderbilt game. (Keith Taylor photo/Kentucky Today)

Kentucky coach John Calipari hasn’t noticed any changes in his squad since posting three consecutive wins over ranked teams, followed by the blowout win over the Commodores earlier this week.

“They’ve been in the right frame of mind and they are engaging with each other,” Calipari said Friday. “We’re slowly figuring this stuff out. I think they’re in good spirits.”

Aside from his team’s recent performances on the court, Calipari has been pleased with the way his team has approached the conditioning aspect of the game. The Kentucky coach said Ashton Hagans, PJ Washington, and Nick Richards were impressive during conditioning workouts on Wednesday.

“I think they understand they’ve got to conquer themselves first before you worry about conquering somebody else,” he said. “They’re pushing themselves. They’re doing good.”

Baker said the team’s focus has been to “get better in practice and get better in every game.”

“Every day in practice, we’ve just been trying to work hard and get better,” he said. “As you can see, we’re gradually getting there. That’s what we want to continue. We want to keep getting better, working hard in practice and by March we should be good.”

Calipari has been focusing “on the big picture of how we do this” ahead of the contest against the Gators. Florida (12-8, 4-3) has won three straight league games, including a 90-86 win over Ole Miss in overtime earlier this week. Florida swept the Wildcats a year ago and have defeated Kentucky three of the past four games.

“We know we are going to go into a madhouse,” the Kentucky coach said. “It’s been a hard place for us to play. They make shots down there and the last five games, they made 30 three-point shots and they may shoot 35 (against us). If they make 20, it’s been a nice little run and who do we play next? They are shooting them. If they are on fire and making them, it’s going to make it hard.”

Calipari said the Wildcats have made strides during the past two weeks and has been pleased with the team’s ability to overcome slow starts, which were a hindrance earlier this month.

“We have different players? Tell me what is different?” he said. “It’s the same guys and so we’re trying to get our team to stay committed to each other and become that kind of team is big for us.”

Calipari is getting more comfortable with the Wildcats and said he doesn’t have to “get as aggressive.”

“Comfortable means no one is trying to trick anybody,” he said. “We have some good kids and I’m having a ball with them. Now we are going into a war. It’s a hard game, but none of the games we’ve played have been easy. It’s good to see them respond in those situations.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Florida, 4 p.m. Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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