The Gators officially launch the Southeastern Conference portion of their schedule on Thursday, when they travel to Lexington and play league preseason favorite and sixth-ranked Kentucky at Memorial Coliseum where the Wildcats have won 30 consecutive games.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET, when SportSouth, FS Southwest and SunSports will air the game live with Jenn Hildreth and Stephanie Ready calling the action for the television audience and for online video streaming that can be viewed at www.espn3.com. The radio broadcast can be heard live in Gainesville on The Star 99.5 FM (WBXY), as well as thru the internet at www.gatorzone.com, the official website of the Florida Gators.
Both teams enter Thursday’s game riding season-long win streaks with the Gators (11-3) having won their last six and the Wildcats (12-1) their last 11.
Kentucky was voted to win its second consecutive league title in a preseason poll of the SEC’s head coaches and media, who also selected Florida to place eighth and ninth, respectively.
“Practice has been very good, in particular our last two practices,” shared UF head coach Amanda Butler. “I think we’ve turned some corners in terms of maturity and how we work. They are understanding how important consistence is. There is also no substituting the level of focus you have when you’re about to play a team like Kentucky and launch into the SEC season in general.”
Florida senior Jennifer George and Kentucky senior A’dia Mathies both were named as preseason first-team All-SEC selections by the league’s coaches and media. Mathies is the overwhelming favorite at the preseason SEC Player of the Year.
The Gators and Wildcats met three times last season and Kentucky captured all three by a combined 12 points. Kentucky earned the 59-56 decision in Gainesville on January 1st, the 57-52 outcome in Lexington on January 22nd and the 71-67 SEC Tournament Quarterfinal bout in Nashville on March 2nd.
Kentucky leads the 46-game series, 24-22, including a 12-8 record in games played in Lexington. The Wildcats have won the last five meetings between the two teams, with each of the last four games decided by five points or less.
“Playing in the SEC, there’s a level of intensity and physicality and athleticism and mental toughness that is really hard to understand unless you’re experiencing it,” Butler said. “It’s great competition and there are a lot of things that are easy to ascertain from the outside, like the rivalries. The level of coaching and preparation – every team has great athletes, great size, every team has great point guards, every team has someone who can shoot the ball and so on that there are very few weaknesses in the teams we’re about to play. It makes what we’re doing and our preparation is our focal point.”
In the last meeting between Florida and Kentucky, Jennifer George and Jaterra Bonds are the only CURRENT members of the Gator squad who scored in the SEC Tournament quarterfinal game, netting 27 of Florida’s 67 points in the four-point loss.
Entering the season, only three current players had suited up with the Gators for an away game in the last two years, with senior Jennifer George joining juniors Lily Svete and Jaterra Bonds with recent experience playing in hostile arenas. Redshirt-sophomore Kayla Lewis had not played a road game since Jan. 23, 2011 at LSU, as she missed the final 19 games of her freshman year while the three games she played last season prior to redshirting were at home.
Florida freshman Sydney Moss is a native of Union, Ky., located just 67 miles from Lexington. The heralded Gator rookie, who was the 2012 Gatorade Kentucky Girls Basketball Player of the Year, is expected to have “a lot” of friends and family members in the stands for Thursday’s game.
“You can see a little difference in the eyes of our returners, Jennifer, Jaterra, Lily, have a knowingness about them that you can only have when you’ve experienced the SEC,” Butler said. “As for our younger players, you see Sydney’s game continue to grow. I’ve been really, really pleased with January Miller in the way that she’s working and progressing. We’re starting to see the light bulbs going off and players are understanding why we’ve been doing what we’ve been doing for the last couple months.”
January Miller a freshman guard from Orlando, is averaging 4.6 points and 1.9 rebounds overall this season, but during the last three games has contributed 10.0 points while hitting 55 percent from the floor and 5-of-9 from the three-point arc (55.6 percent).
Preseason Naismith Player of the Year candidate Jennifer George has scored in double-figures in 11 of UF’s last 13 games, but had a run of eight straight halted with her nine-point, eight rebound effort against Central Michigan (Dec. 21). George, who is the SEC’s ACTIVE career leader in double-doubles with 24, most recently tallied a 21-point, 10 rebound effort against Holy Cross (Dec. 28). George also is the SEC’s ACTIVE career leader in rebounds (769) and is second for blocks (152) and fifth for steals (137).
George leads the Gators in scoring (14.6), rebounding (9.1) and steals (2.5) and ranks second for field goal percentage (56.0%) and blocked shots (17).
Moss also is averaging a double-figure scoring effort, tallying 11.6 points per game. She was voted the MVP of the Gator Holiday Classic after leading UF to two wins and the team title. During the two-game run, Moss led the Gators with 16.5 points — converting 63.2 percent (12-19) of her shots, along with 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals.
Overall this season, Moss leads Florida in assists (4.2 apg), while ranking second for scoring (11.6), rebounding (6.1 rpg) and steals (1.9) and has flirted with a triple-double four times.
Among SEC freshmen entering the games of Jan. 3, Moss ranks second for assists and fourth for rebounds. She has been the Gator’s game leader for assists eight times, for rebounding three times and scoring three times.
Bonds, the only returning player that boasted experience in the backcourt for the Gators this year, ranks second on the team in trips to the free throw line (51), where she converts 76.5 percent of her attempts. In UF’s win against Pacific (Dec. 7), Bonds scored a game-high 20 points, hitting 12-of-15 free throws, an effort that tied for the fourth-most made free throws in a game in program history.
Bonds is averaging 10.0 points with 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.
Over the last three games, Moss is averaging a team-best 16.7 points, hitting 58.1 percent (18-31) of her shots from the floor, including 3-of-6 from beyond the three-point arc. The talented Gator rookie connected on 73.3 percent (11-15) from the free throw line, while dishing 11 assists and collecting seven steals.
Courtesy of UF Communications