Kentucky passed its initial SEC test and moved up in the rankings this week after another undefeated team lost.
The No. 2 Wildcats’ first road trip in conference play, however, presents a potential stumbling block they prepare to face a hostile environment at Florida on Tuesday night.
Kentucky (16-0, 1-0) beat Georgia 76-68 on Saturday as coach John Calipari’s first SEC season began with a victory.
The Wildcats are off to their best start since opening 23-0 in 1965-66, and moved up one spot in the poll after top-ranked Kansas fell to Tennessee. Kentucky, though, was anything but dominant against the Bulldogs.
Georgia led 35-34 at halftime and held the Wildcats to 43.3 percent shooting, their second-lowest mark of the season.
“(Georgia) never quit playing and that is what happens in this league, and that was at home,” said Calipari, whose Memphis teams from 2000-09 faced significantly weaker competition in Conference USA. “I can’t imagine how that will be on the road.”
Kentucky has played one game in an opponent’s arena, beating Indiana 90-73 on Dec. 12. They have not had any success in Gainesville of late, losing their last five trips, and went 5-7 on the road last season.
This Wildcats roster has a different look, thanks to the arrival of freshmen DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Eric Bledsoe. Cousins and star junior Patrick Patterson caused major problems inside for Georgia, combining for 33 points with Cousins scoring seven in the final three minutes to help seal the win.
Wall scored 17 points for the second straight game and is the only player in the nation averaging at least 17.0 points and 7.0 assists while shooting at least 50 percent from the field. He and Bledsoe, averaging 10.3 points, orchestrate Calipari’s dribble-drive system.
The freshmen, however, have limited experience in an atmosphere like the raucous one Florida will surely provide Tuesday.
“We are going to find out where we are,” said Calipari, whose team plays at Auburn on Saturday. “That is why you do this. We went to Indiana and got down really fast and were down 12 and about to get blown out and we just had to chip away and get back in the game and end up beating them. Now, this will be a team that will be even better and a tougher environment than Indiana. We will see if we are ready for it.”
Florida (11-4, 0-1) has proved capable of beating a top team this season, knocking off then-No. 2 Michigan State 77-74 on Nov. 27 in Atlantic City. The Gators rose to No. 10 after an 8-0 start but then lost three straight - one of the defeats coming at home to South Alabama - to fall out of the Top 25.
Florida beat North Carolina State 62-61 on Chandler Parsons’ desperation heave at the overtime buzzer from the Gators’ half of the court Jan. 3. The Gators, though, could not build on the win as they dropped their SEC opener 95-87 at Vanderbilt on Saturday.
The Commodores shot 52.5 percent from the field and went to the free-throw line 33 times, while junior center Vernon Macklin and freshman forward Erik Murphy fouled out in less than 15 minutes.
“That’s not productive defensively and we certainly need to get better,” coach Billy Donovan said. “We have to move our feet and do some of those things better.”
While the Gators have five players averaging at least 10.0 points, they are led offensively by freshman guard Kenny Boynton, who scored a season-high 28 points against Vanderbilt. Calipari said he “spent a lot of time recruiting (Boynton).”