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February 14, 2014

Donovan downplays experience gap between UK, UF



Florida and Kentucky are both in the middle of successful seasons, but it'd be difficult to find teams who have gone about the 2013-2014 campaign in a more opposite fashion.

The No. 3 Gators are littered with veterans, four in their starting five surrounding a 3-point shooting sophomore. For the No. 14 Wildcats, upperclassmen are little more than mulch surrounding high-priced flowers. John Calipari doesn't just start five freshmen. He starts five of the top 11 overall prospects in the 2013 recruiting class.

Unprecedented, even at a factory like Kentucky.

"Top to bottom, this is the most talented team in the country," Billy Donovan said.

In many ways, Saturday night's game will be a test of human nature as much as basketball skills. Calipari showed his team video of Florida center Patric Young diving to save a ball from going out of bounds to extend a possession late against Tennessee while the Gators were trying to milk the clock.

The message was given. "I asked them, what are you willing to do to win a game? I know what he is willing to do." Oh by the way, Young is playing in his 135th collegiate game. Just like everyone else in Florida's locker room, he has never won at Rupp Arena.

"It'd be nice if after I leave here, no one would be able to say, 'Oh, you never won at Rupp,'" Young said. "That would be pretty nice."

Donovan has preached "desperation" to his team the past month and that appears to be what he is getting in the midst of a 16-game winning streak. Four seniors who have been to - and been excused from - three consecutive Elite Eights don't get overly excited about a game in February and that might just be the key to ending a six-game losing streak in Lexington.

That said, don't throw the experience storyline at Donovan. Florida was more experienced and far more successful when it went to Kentucky last year but left with a 61-57 defeat.

"People are going to talk about that those guys have played a lot of basketball against a lot of good players," Donovan said. "Right now, everybody's got about 24-25 games under their belt. Those guys certainly, all their guys have logged an enormous amount of minutes. They've grown, too."

If the experience gap between these two teams is going to show up in front of 23,000 screaming Kentuckians, it is likely to come when the Wildcats are on offense and Florida's defense - the best in the Southeastern Conference - is trying to derail its foe mentally. The Gators pressure has been too much for teams like No. 7 Kansas and Tennessee.

"Both teams, no matter the game situation, are going to face some type of adversity. With our experience, we'll just handle it better," Young said. "We stay pretty composed. We know it's a long game, that teams go on runs. We don't really know what goes on with other teams, but we do a good job staying connected to one another, lifting each other up, staying focused on the task at hand. In doing that, we're able to get out of those ruts pretty quick."

They've had four years to figure it out.


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