LEXINGTON — Anthony Davis set a Kentucky single season record for blocked shots last year when he led the nation in blocks and helped UK win the national title. However, this year freshman Nerlens Noel has 103 blocks and leads the nation with 4.48 per game — and UK leads the nation with 7.7 blocks per game.
“I think he is just as good as Anthony Davis as a shot blocker, I don’t think there is any question about that,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said of Noel as he gets set to face UK tonight. “He has unbelievable length, has unbelievable timing, he is very gifted at it for a skill guy. He keeps himself out of foul trouble; he can alter shots from a lot different directions and areas on the floor. I think we have to have a level of intelligence, and I think driving in there and trying to shoot over top of him is probably not a wise choice, but I still think we are a team that needs to attack.”
No. 7 Florida will not have the inside size of Kentucky in tonight’s game between the Southeastern Conference’s top two teams, something Donovan says his team has to deal with to succeed.
“They’ve got really good length. Across the front line, they’ve got a lot of different lineups they can play. They’re getting (Willie) Cauley-Stein back and then you add (Kyle) Wiltjer and add (Alex) Poythress and Noel. They have a lot of length up there,” Donovan said. “Our hand is what it is, in terms of our front court. We know we collectively have to do a good job as a group. I’ve always been a big believer that it’s not one guy’s responsibility to take care of another guy. We’ve got to do it and have done it this year as a team and we’ll need to continue to do a good job there as a team.”
Florida’s second leading rebounder, forward Will Yeguete is out with a knee injury. Center Patric Young leads Florida with 6.6 rebounds per game and is first in blocks with 38. Noel averages 9.6 rebounds per game for UK and Poythress pulls off 6.4.
Donovan says Young has matured and become a better player, one reason he has avoided foul trouble in big games like the one tonight.
“I think understanding where he gets himself into trouble, where he draws fouls, how he draws fouls, being disciplined. I think it’s just normal tendency when you’re a frontcourt player in and around the basket to want to leave your feet on different situations, different plays. There’s a lot on somebody like Patric. There’s a lot on Nerlens Noel for Kentucky or any center for that matter because those guys are in the back of the defense and are anchoring the defense,” Donovan said.
Donovan says not having Yeguete, a versatile defender, means his team has to be more alert defensively against UK.
“If we are in the game small tomorrow with (Casey) Prather and he gets stuck on Nerlens Noel, we need to understand that he is going to need some help. Whereas maybe with a guy like Will he wouldn’t need as much help, maybe he would, any player for that matter,” Donovan said. “You’ve got to be conscientious of who is out there on the floor, what the matchup looks like. If we ever get into a situation with four guards and (Michael) Frazier has to guard maybe a Kyle Wiltjer, we got to have awareness in the game of what’s going on right now. We can’t leave that guy on an island.”
Donovan isn’t sure if there’s any added pressure on his team, which is leading the SEC, because of its lack of success against John Calipari’s teams the last three years.
“Their team is different from a year ago, so the faces for them have changed. We’re not preparing for Anthony Davis or (Michael) Kidd-Gilchrist or (Doron) Lamb or (Marquis) Teague. We’re preparing for Nerlens Noel and Wiltjer and Poythress, some very gifted, talented guys who have their own identity and play their own way,” Donovan said. “Our guys need to understand how they’re playing against them. Outside of Wiltjer, our guys have never played against these guys before. So from that standpoint it is different.
“I think maybe they would feel that way if these teams were identical but they’re not right now. We’ve got some players returning from the last couple years playing against them, but I think their roster has changed so much that in the last three or four years that they have almost had a new identity almost every single year going into these seasons.”
Donovan says UK “clearly” was the nation’s best team last season when it beat the Gators. He says what matters now is the impact the game has on the SEC race with UK only one game behind the Gators.
“We get the chance to play against them twice. If we are fortunate enough to win the game on Tuesday, there is another game Saturday, and there is another game coming after that. The world doesn’t stop. It’s one game right now that’s an important game. It’s the next one and it is on our schedule right now, one we want to continue moving forward on,” Donovan said. “But I really never ever get wrapped up in that kind of stuff.
“Clearly, they have had, the last three or four years, just some incredible talent, incredible pieces. They have been very, very gifted. They have been a very hard team to beat. I think John Calipari has done a terrific job with his team. For us right now, this is an important game because it is right in front of us right now and this is the next one. After this one is over, our focus is going to have to shift right to Auburn.”