Florida enjoys going on the road, and on Saturday, it will get a chance to play in one of the most hostile environments in the nation.
The top-ranked Gators look to extend their 14-game winning streak when they face No. 20 Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
Florida (22-2, 9-0 SEC) won 71-61 at Georgia on Wednesday to keep alive the nation’s longest winning streak. The Gators, who were named the first unanimous No. 1 in nearly two years two days earlier, also extended their best start in SEC play.
“When you see fans no longer standing up when their team scores, you know you’ve put them away,” said forward Corey Brewer, who scored 18 points. “You know they’re going away without a win. I love it on the road. Everybody wants to knock you off. It feels great when you win.”
Florida has won four straight games on the road since a 70-66 loss at Florida State on Dec. 3 in its first road game of the season. Only one of those victories, a 70-67 win at Mississippi State on Jan. 24, has been closer than 10 points.
“It’s almost like a circus atmosphere when we come to play,” said Joakim Noah, who added 10 points. “We want to come strong and mess up their party.”
Noah checked his Facebook page last weekend and found countless groups created just to tease and criticize him.
“I got a lot of Kentucky hate mail right now,” Noah said. “I don’t know what it is. I’m getting a lot of attention, though.”
Now, the Gators will be looking to knock off a Kentucky squad that is 12-1 at home this season. The Wildcats are trying for their 400th win at Rupp and have dropped just 49 games in the 31-year history of the arena.
“There’s going to be a lot more energy in the gym on Saturday than ever before,” Kentucky guard Joe Crawford said. “(ESPN’s) College Gameday will be here, and all eyes will be on us. It’s a tremendous opportunity.”
The Gators have won their last four games against Kentucky, including a 79-64 victory on March 5 last season in the last meeting at Rupp. Before the current winning streak, however, Florida had lost eight straight in the series and seven straight in Lexington.
“Whether a team beats you, no matter one, two or five times in a row, it should give you inspiration to reach down and play harder and practice harder,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said.
Florida is the third No. 1 team to visit Rupp Arena. Kentucky beat Indiana 69-58 during the 1979-80 season and knocked off Florida 70-55 on Feb. 4, 2003.
The Wildcats (18-5, 7-2) are coming off Wednesday’s 95-89 victory over South Carolina and have won three straight since consecutive losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia. Kentucky built a 50-28 halftime lead—its highest first-half point total since scoring 60 against Florida A&M in the first round of the 2004 NCAA tournament—but gave up 61 in the second half to the last-place Gamecocks.
“If we don’t have better focus on Saturday, it’s going to be a long day,” Smith warned.
Ramel Bradley scored 21 points and Randolph Morris, who leads the Wildcats with 15.6 points per game, added 17 off the bench. Smith said that Morris did not start because he had violated an undisclosed team rule.