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March 4, 2012

TV ad spurs Cats to SEC perfection

MORE KENTUCKY HOOPS: Check out Cats Illustrated

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The reminder is hard to avoid.

Virtually every time a player on the Kentucky basketball team turns on the television, there's the ad - the one for ESPN's mobile app that touts the ability to watch college hoops via phone or tablet - in which Indiana's Christian Watford is making a buzzer-beater to topple top-ranked UK.

The Wildcats, again the No. 1 team in the country, haven't lost since - they dispatched Florida 74-59 on Sunday to cap the regular season at 30-1 and 16-0 in Southeastern Conference play - and yet, that lone loss is inescapable.

"Oh, I turn the TV off," said forward Terrence Jones, who had 19 points on Sunday. "Every time. I know I turn the TV off every time I see that commercial. I almost sold my iPhone, my iPad. I turn the TV off."

That commercial has lit a motivational fire under the Wildcats. And they are sizzling.

Sunday's game in the O'Connell Center - known as one of the SEC's most challenging venues - was almost as much coronation as competition. Kentucky had a 38-22 lead in the first half, and though the Gators (22-9, 10-6) whittled it to two in the second half, the outcome rarely seemed in doubt.

When it was time to slam the door, the Cats did it, just the way they've been doing since that Indiana loss.

Against the Gators, Anthony Davis did most of the slamming. The Player of the Year candidate had 22 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots, including 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks in the final 16:31, after the Gators cut the lead to 46-44.

Davis said assistant coach Kenny Payne and several of his teammates told him "the way we're going to win this game is through you." They told Davis, "We need you to play."

"That's all I tried to do, make the best of all my opportunities, score the ball, make the right decisions - rebounding, offensive and defensive, knocking down free throws, hitting open shots, making the right pass," Davis said. "It was all just my mindset: OK, I have to dominate the game for us to win."

He dominated. They won, rolling down the stretch of a game John Calipari described as "as good as we've played all year."

In the process, Kentucky became the first team to run through a big six conference without a loss since the 2002-03 Wildcats went 16-0. UK is the eighth team to finish undefeated in the power conferences - the SEC, Big 12, ACC, Big East, Pac-12 and Big Ten - since 1982.

"It means we were great," Davis said. "Coach Cal told us only three teams ever did it in the league. To be a part of one of those teams, it's been a great honor."

Calipari has been here before. His last three Memphis teams went undefeated in Conference USA. After the game, Calipari said he lauded his players for the undefeated run and for winning a school-record 30 regular-season games.

"It's a nice thing but that's not why we're playing," Calipari said.

The regular-season records are memorable, but they'll be quickly forgotten if Kentucky falters in the NCAA Tournament. So Calipari isn't letting his team be content with its current run.

"The only thing I'll tell you is, I'm really happy but I'm not satisfied," Calipari said. "I want us to just keep getting better."

Calipari admitted he doesn't know exactly "what that means," given the way his team is playing, but he cited losing most of a 16-point first-half lead against the Gators as a sign there's room for improvement.

Calipari called his team "really intelligent," and said his players trust each other and his coaching. As such, they're willing to listen and learn.

And they're not lacking for motivation. Calipari called the ESPN commercial "one of the greatest services for my program," noting that his players get angry every time they see it.

The Cats still are stinging, Davis said, from that Indiana loss. And that ESPN commercial only adds fuel to the fire.

"It shows like 100 times on ESPN a day," Davis said. "That really makes us mad. It's just the way we lost. We never want to have that feeling again."

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MORE KENTUCKY: Victory over Florida: At Calipari's urging, Jones steps up his game

MORE RIVALS: Meyer: Where UK stands in chase for No. 1 recruit Muhammad

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