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February 10, 2013

Notes: Cats look ahead to Gators; Goodwin struggles

Kentucky will play for first place in the Southeastern Conference when it travels to Florida on Tuesday.

After Saturday's results - a 72-62 win against Auburn for the Wildcats, an 83-58 win against Mississippi State for the Gators - UK can move into a tie atop the SEC standings with a win. It would hold the tiebreaker over Florida because of the head-to-head win (although the teams will meet again in the season finale).

And John Calipari doesn't care much for that prospect.

"Someone says, well, now you're playing for first place. Are you crazy?" Calipari said, before issuing a reminder that UK still has plenty more games - and challenges - left on the schedule. "We're just trying to get better. I'm not worried about first place, second place, fifth place. No, just get better."

By the looks of it, Kentucky has gotten better. The Wildcats are riding a season-high five-game win streak into the O'Connell Center, where the Gators have beaten four SEC teams by 31, 33, 39 and 25 points.

"It's important," Nerlens Noel said of the streak. "We're not riding too high but we're not riding too low. Right now we're a confident team. We have good momentum. I think definitely we'll be prepared for this game."

Jarrod Polson said UK will have to play better than it has been, even during its wins, to beat the Gators. If the Cats do, it could have the biggest ramifications of any game left on the schedule. UK currently has two wins against NCAA top-50 wins (Maryland, at Ole Miss). A victory against the Gators would be a big addition to its postseason resume.

"Shoot, I mean we just got to play our roles, really," Polson said. "That's Cal's biggest thing. We just have to do what we're best at. If we all play our roles and play hard, I think we can beat one of the best teams in the country."

Goodwin must play with team in mind
He can't be afraid to screw up.

At least, that's what Calipari said he needs Archie Goodwin to think.

Calipari said Goodwin needs to "zone in" on playing for the team. When he doesn't, Goodwin's "afraid to make a play," Calipari said.

And he needs Goodwin to make plays. Needs him to drive. Needs him to attack the basket.

"If I miss some shots, it's okay, they need me to be aggressive and score," Calipari said, describing the desired Goodwin mentality. "But if you're thinking about how you look, how it makes you look, it's hard."

UK had to make plays without Goodwin for much of the Auburn game. He scored three points on 1-of-6 shooting in 17 minutes. That scoring output tied his season low (Notre Dame); his playing time was a season low.

"We were fine without him," Calipari said. "It's good for him to see it, too. But he'll be fine."

In his past three games, Goodwin has averaged 8.3 points per game on 33.3 percent shooting overall. He's also made 1 of his last 20 threes, stretching over 11 games.

"Putting way too much pressure on him because he's worried about how he's playing," Calipari said. "But this is - he's 18 years old. He's supposed to do some of this stuff."

Play of the Game
The pass started with a flash.

As Auburn closed in on Noel for a double-team on the block, Alex Poythress made a cut to the basket. Noel, looking over the extended arms and past the two-player pressure, found him with a clean pass.

Poythress did one better, catching the ball and, in one swift motion, scooping it behind his back to an open Willie Cauley-Stein under the goal.

"I was not ready for it," Cauley-Stein said. "I thought he was losing the ball. When he came around, I thought he muffed it. I thought, 'Oh no.' … It was a beautiful pass, though."

Capping a beautiful play in a game generally bereft of them, Cauley-Stein finished with a dunk. And-one.

It was a play based purely on "instincts," Noel said. It's not something they prepare.

"In practice, if you mess that up, coach Cal will get on you," Noel said. "We don't really try that too much."

Noel ties season low for blocks
For 38 seconds and 55 minutes against Auburn, the nation's leading shot blocker didn't record a block.

Although Noel leapt and swatted for his fair share, he hadn't connected on any.

"We tried to do some things to get him away from the rim," Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. "You leave him in front of the rim, he's going to block shots."
That included taking more three-pointers and spacing the court, all in an effort to negate Noel's substantial presence around the basket.

Noel finally picked up a block with 1:05 to play - barely avoiding his first zero-block game of the season - but he felt that he had less of a defensive impact than normal. He entered the game averaging 4.6 blocks per game and had recorded only one block twice before.

"It was a little frustrating at times," Noel said, "but as long as my team's doing well and we're rebounding, it's totally fine."


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