Florida Gator fans in the O-Dome last night were fervent in their hopes that the Kentucky team visiting Gainesville was not as good as hyped.
But the chomping fans left the O'Connell Center realizing that Kentucky is just that good.
Super freshman John Wall did not dominate this game as basketball fans have been led to believe he could every game. In fact, there are some "experts" out there who may even say that he had a "bad" game.
That is only true if 19 points, including some clutch contributions in the final few minutes, are a bad game.
But the real star of the night for the Big Blue was another freshman guard—Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe finished the game with 25 points, and he was dominant while Wall was much quieter against the Gators.
Bledsoe also had three assists and for much of the night was running the Kentucky offense. The freshman from Alabama shot 10-of-13 and had only two turnovers.
Bledsoe was so good last night that ESPN reported today Florida coach Billy Donovan said that Bledsoe is faster and a better shooter than his running mate Wall. That could be hotly debated, but nothing the Gators did last night could stop Bledsoe.
But Kentucky is much more than these two very talented kid guards. Kentucky's inside game is dominant.
ESPN analysts pointed out that Kentucky is the tallest team across the board in the entire country. Three of the big men were major factors in the win in the O-Dome last night.
Junior forward Patrick Patterson, a preseason All-American pick, had 15 points and seven rebounds. Patterson plays much bigger than his listed 6'9" and was very important as Kentucky fought off a late surge by Florida to stretch the Wildcats' record to 17-0.
Freshman center DeMarcus Cousins, who is a very large 6'11", had 13 points and five rebounds. But he was spectacular without having spectacular numbers.
Cousins has some reputation for getting mad and pouting. But in last night's game, what he showed most was hustle and determination.
On one trip down the floor in the second half, Cousins singlehandedly kept the ball in Kentucky's hands by hustling three times for loose balls and bouncing them off Florida players out of bounds to give the ball back to the Cats.
And at a time when it appeared the partisan Gator crowd might urge their charges on to a come-from-behind victory, Cousins made a spectacular spin move in the lane that resulted in a much-needed basket for Kentucky.
Another freshman center, Daniel Orton, was also a major contributor in this game. The official line says that he had four blocks in the game, but somebody was not counting correctly, because Orton was everywhere, denying the Gators. On one possession alone the kid had three blocked shots.
Orton, who would start for any other SEC team, came off the bench for 17 minutes and had nine rebounds to go with what seemed like nine blocked shots.
Transfer Darnell Dodson also contributed with two 3-point shots when they were really needed by Kentucky.
Sophomore Darius Miller had nine points and picked his team up with some inspired play that drew raves from his coach, John Calipari.
At one point, when Miller snared a rebound and finished with a two-hand flush, Cal grabbed his head with both hands in mock amazement.
Kentucky is very deep and very talented. The freshmen were highly touted.
But if you had told most basketball minds in October that Calipari would start three freshmen and a sophomore, would be unbeaten after 17 games, all while playing the likes of North Carolina, Connecticut, and Louisville, they would have laughed at you.
Despite being very young, Kentucky has a deep bench and often gets key contributions from senior Ramon Harris and sophomore DeAndre Liggins. Senior big man Perry Stevenson is not particularly skilled, but he can come on the floor and give the other big guys a rest without hurting the team, and that is important.
Kentucky has nine very good players, and four of those may be lottery picks in Wall, Bledsoe, Cousins, and Patterson.
It has been a long time since Wildcat fans had this much to cheer about and SEC opponents had this much to fear.
It is unlikely that Kentucky will go through their SEC schedule unbeaten. But, by this time, no one can seriously doubt that this bunch of kittens is the real deal.
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