UK vs Florida

Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin (10) will face a Florida defense Tuesday that SEC coaches say has been difficult to penetrate and good enough to win games for the Gators even if they don't play well on offense. (Victoria Graff / February 11, 2013)

How good is Florida?

That’s a question Kentucky will learn the answer to Tuesday night when it takes on the Southeastern Conference leader in Gainesville. The Gators had won 10 straight games, including eight in the SEC, before being pummeled at Arkansas last week. However, Florida trounced Mississippi State 83-58 Saturday.

“This is as good of a Florida team as I have seen my tenure at Georgia. This Florida team is just terrific,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “I feel like we have played against ((Patric) Young and (Kenny) Boynton forever. Those guys have played in so many games. 

“They have great experience and are balanced offensively. They have so many guys scoring the ball. I think they are a very complete team. I think they are terrific defensively and as balanced as they have ever been offensively. They can beat you so many ways. I just think from the outside looking in that they are as good in every area as they have ever been.”

South Carolina coach Frank Martin feels the same way — even though he indicated after his team lost to UK that he felt Kentucky could possibly match up with the Gators.

“Florida is so sound on both ends of the court that it is depressing,” Martin said. “What makes them even better on defense is that on offense they do not turn the ball over and they take good shots and that allows their defense to set. They are playing fourth- and fifth-year seniors or guys in their third year of playing major minutes. There is a reason they are a top five team in the country. They are a hand full (to play). 

“They don’t score because of their players. They score because of their culture and players within that culture. They take good shots and are unselfish. Their assist to basket ratio is pretty darn good every game and that tells you they play through a system. It is easier to defend a team who has one good player who keeps the ball. It’s hard to defend a team like Florida where they ball never sticks (with one player).

“They are just a team that is unbelievably disciplined and plays with tremendous attention to detail. They don’t turn it over, they don’t take bad shots and that allows their defense to set 95 percent of time. Then there is size, strength and experience makes them very good.”

Fox said opponents can’t count on Florida having an off night on one end of the court and being able to beat the Gators.

“A lot of teams will beat you with their defense or their offense. Florida can beat you with either one and often are beating teams with both. Their defense is so good they can win off that alone, but their offense is very strong,” Fox said. “And their experience is a huge advantage for them. They are really good at both ends and (coach) Billy (Donovan) has done an amazing job with them. 

“I think they are the best team in the country. It is going to take a great effort to beat that team. They are big, athletic, strong, have depth. They are mobile. They are so good offensively, you don’t get a lot of transition baskets. They are able to set their defense and they use their experience to recognize things and respond correctly defensively.”

The Gators lost forward Will Yeguete for at least the rest of the regular season after he injured his knee in the Arkansas loss. Florida went 4-5 without him last year, but has more depth this season. Michael Frazier started in place of point guard Scottie Wilbekin against State and responded with 11 points and six rebounds. Casey Prather, playing in place of Yeguete, chipped in 12 points and five rebounds. Guard Mike Rosario scored 18 points and Erik Murphy added 17 before missing the final four minutes after turning his ankle Saturday.

“Obviously Florida is an up tempo team and likes to score points. Billy is putting together a special year,”  Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “On defense, they trust one another. Trust is so big. If something breaks down, they have Young or Murphy to come over to block the shot or take a charge. They feed off each other. They could be the top team in the country.”

Donovan says one reason for Florida’s dominance in most SEC games has been solid defense and good shooting. However, he’s been trying to get his players even more committed on defense.

“Players on our team have to be really committed to playing defense. Players love offense, but the have to commit to defense and our guys have got better there,” Donovan said. “It’s human nature to be complacent and relax and not want to strive to be better than what you are. But we have to get better.”

Donovan also says the maturity of his team show. The Gators normally start three seniors and two juniors who Donovan says “have been through the ups and downs” of different seasons.

“Our players understand how difficult it is to go through a league schedule because they have been through those challenges,” Donovan said.