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Cats relishing every game with season's end approaching

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Marquis Teague had eight points and four assists in UK's win over Georgia on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Marquis Teague had eight points and four assists in UK's win over Georgia on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Time is running out on another season of Kentucky basketball.

January and February have flown by, meaning March has arrived, and with it, the impending end of the regular season.

Thursday's Senior Night festivities hammered home the point that John Calipari is making to his team: that this group of Wildcats, as constituted, won't play many more games together.

"Coach really says that every year, (that) this team will never be together (again)," Terrence Jones said. "It's usually true with seniors and other guys leaving early for the NBA. This team is just trying to enjoy this year and just trying to focus on each game to be successful."

No. 1 UK (29-1, 15-0 Southeastern Conference) wraps up its regular season with a road trip to face the No. 16/13 Florida Gators (22-8, 10-5 SEC) on Sunday at noon on CBS. Kentucky will have a chance to accomplish a couple history-making feats with a win. The Wildcats can complete a perfect 16-0 conference slate for just the third time in SEC history and set a school record for regular-season wins with 30.

"It's something we want to do," Teague said of UK's chance to go unbeaten in SEC play. "You never want to lose any games but that's not something we really focus on a lot. We're happy that we have a chance to do it."

Those achievements look nice in a media guide or a record book, but this team is only worried about itself and its immediate future.

"This is trying to be the best team you can be, trying to establish the excellence of a program," Calipari said. "We're playing Florida, a terrific basketball team, a ranked basketball team on the road. It's going to be very hard for us to win. We know that. I'm more concerned about my team."

Sunday's game also marks the final time UK will face a hostile road environment. From here on out, UK will play at neutral sites where Big Blue Nation figures to descend and turn into a near-home court for the Cats.

"It's a pride game," Calipari said. "Let's figure out who we are is basically how you go at it. (I will) let them know it's a physical game. They're going to, in all likelihood, come out and be physical and they're going to play at their best and they're going to be hyped and the building's sold out."

Florida will honor Erving Walker as part of its Senior Day festivities, so the Cats know that element will be added to the motivation of playing the nation's top-ranked team that also happens to have won 21 games in a row.

Since losing its only game of the season on the road to Indiana nearly three months ago, Kentucky has reeled off 21 straight wins, including eight on the road.

"We know they're going to come out ready for their seniors like we did," Marquis Teague said. "We came out ready to play and wanted to get them a win for their last game."

The Cats performed exceptionally well on their own Senior Night, sending off Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas with a 79-49 victory over Georgia. A dominant performance like that one made it hard on even Calipari to find many negatives to point out.

"We did a lot of good stuff," Calipari said. "The breakdown tape (Friday), there was not a whole lot of bad stuff I could show. I picked out how a guy went and got water and this guy wasn't cheering on the bench and stuff like that, but it was hard to pull out stuff."

Outings like that one are what have led experts to call UK the favorite to win the national championship, but Calipari knows the fickle nature of the NCAA Tournament.

"You can go and have a bad free-throw shooting night, a bad 3-point shooting night," Calipari said. "You could have foul trouble. It's one and done. Fate intervenes. You got a guy in a game and all of a sudden that's a foul, that's a foul, Anthony (Davis) you sit down."

Calipari is accounting for just that situation. Even though Davis is remarkably proficient at avoiding fouls, even he has fallen victim on occasion this season. In UK's lone loss at Indiana, Davis was limited to just 24 minutes by foul trouble.

Accordingly, Calipari has taken of late to removing Davis from the first unit in practice, forcing UK's top group to play without him. There is a noticeable drop-off, but the Cats are improving when Jones has to step in as the five.

"Coach wants me to be there for the majority of the blocks that he's usually there for," Jones said. "It just makes me more aware. Guarding the five more, I'm closer to the paint where he is for the blocks. It's just his role that I'm trying to get used to playing in case that's what Coach needs me to do."

"We still do a real good job without him, but it's not the same," Teague said. "He makes us that much better when he's on the floor with us."

Teague has grown accustomed to having Davis protecting the basket and terrorizing opposing defense with his ability to throw down alley-oops. Playing against Davis has given Teague a newfound appreciation of everything he does.

"We see it's hard to get shots up over him," Teague said. "He changes a lot of shots and blocks a lot of shots."

In spite of all the work the Cats have done to prepare for life without Davis, there's nothing they would like more for than it all to go to waste because he avoids foul trouble. Davis' teammates want their player of the year pick on the floor.

"To me, I think he is (the national player of the year)," Teague said. "The whole team thinks he is. He dominates every game and he never has a bad game."

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