LEXINGTON — Beware of the Wildcats.
That's the message future opponents may want to consider after top-ranked Kentucky dismantled Florida 78-58 Tuesday night at Rupp Arena. In what many figured to be the team's first major test in the Southeastern Conference, the Wildcats passed the 40-minute essay with flying colors, sending a signal to the rest of remaining conference foes to be on the lookout for a Kentucky team that’s clicking on all four cylinders and showing no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Sure, it’s only February, but it looks like this team is starting to peak, even though most college coaches, including Kentucky’s John Calipari, have traditionally declared March as the right time to reach the proverbial summit. However, Calipari’s third Wildcat team may just be ahead of schedule and that can’t be good for future teams who await the Cats down a path that could ultimately lead to a second straight appearance in the Final Four. Barring any unseen road blocks, it also could result in a national championship, an eighth crown Big Blue Nation has been seeking for more than a decade.
This team is that good and may even be better than the veteran squad that captured the elusive title in 1996.
Since dropping a 73-72 setback at Indiana on Dec. 10, Kentucky has won 16 straight games.
The team is on pace to run the table in the conference with only six more games remaining in the league.
The Gators were the latest team to get a glimpse of the Wildcats up close and personal and walked away with their heads down when the final buzzer sounded. The Gators slowly faded away when Kentucky recovered after missing eight of its first 10 shots and falling behind 6-0 during the first five minutes. The Wildcats forced seven lead changes until finally gaining control with a 10-2 run before the half. Florida scored the first four points of the second half, but the Cats scored the next 11, and the rout was on, one that propelled Kentucky to its largest margin of victory over a Top 10 team since a 99-65 blowout over Indiana on Dec. 7, 1996.
Although Kentucky shot more than 50 percent from the field and missed just six shots on 15 attempts from long range, even more impressive was the team’s performance on defense. The players are buying into the defensive scheme, a trait that’s much-needed to make a serious championship run. Kentucky held Florida, a noted three-point shooting machine, to 35 percent shooting and blocked six shots, including four by leading swat team member Anthony Davis.
This time of year, teams tend to settle into a lull, but the top-ranked Wildcats made it through the proverbial “January” slump that crippled many Kentucky squads in the modern era. Some of those teams got back up and enjoyed a successful finish, while others, hung a “wait until next year” sign on the door and turned the lights out on the season.
However, this season is indeed far from over for this squad.
Kentucky is good, but not as good as it’s going to be, which could be a scary thought for future opponents.