Roughly 38 hours after going down to Athens and losing to the Georgia Bulldogs, the Kentucky Wildcats find themselves about to face the SEC-leading and 11th ranked Florida Gators on Senior Day in Rupp Arena.
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Normally, this would be the kind of game Kentucky fans look forward to, but after two losses on the road, the Wildcats find themselves the subject of many questions and much frustration among the Big Blue Nation. Many have decided that this team just isn’t up to the task, and given the recent road performances, perhaps that judgment is correct.
But Kentucky has been significantly better at home than on the road, and that gives the UK faithful some reason to hope for an upset, and make no mistake, it would be a significant upset.
Season so far
|Rank and Records||UF||UK|
|Strength of Schedule||#39||#76|
|RPI Top 50||4-3||1-4|
The Wildcats and the Gators have played a total of 127 games since 1927, when the first game between Florida and Kentucky was held. The Wildcats have prevailed in 93 of the contests (73%), and the Gators in 34 (27%). This is the second-best winning percentage of any original SEC member school, next to Tennessee at 31%.
The Gators have had one of the longest winning streaks of any team against the Wildcats, seven games from March of 2005 through January of 2008. Other than that monster, the Gators have had only one three-game winning streak against UK from 1997-98.
The most points ever scored by a Gator against Kentucky was 37 by Chip Williams in 1974. Wildcat great Dan Issel scored the most against Florida by a UK player, a symmetrical 37.
|20||Michael Frazier II||MR||G||6-4||200||FR||6.2||47.0||3.4||1.0||0.5||0.0|
By now, the Gators should be familiar to all Kentucky fans. Florida plays an eight-man rotation. Four out of five Florida starters average double figures, and Scottie Wilbiken is very close at 9.1 points per game.
The big guys are Eric Murphy (12.3 ppg, 5 rpg), a stretch 4 with a great 3-point stroke (46.5%), and Patric Young (10.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg), a brawny forward with a solid post game. Will Yeguette (5.6 ppg, 6 rpg) is the front-court reserve, and a very solid one inside.
Florida starts a three-guard lineup featuring Wilbiken (9.1 ppg, 5.2 apg), Kenny Boynton (12.6 ppg, 3.1 apg) and Mike Rosario (12.6 ppg, 2.2 apg). All three are solid 3-point shooters, although they have a tendency to be streaky, particularly Boynton. Casey Prather (6.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg) is a hard-working swing man, and Michael Frazier II (6.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg) is a big guard with a sweet 3-point touch (49%).
Kentucky: Nerlens Noel is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Florida: No known injuries.
Four Factors and Ken Pomeroy Tables
|Florida with the ball||Kentucky with the ball|
|Adj. Efficiency||115.3 1||102.5 11||105.6 4||84.7 1|
|Adj. Tempo||62.6 10||65.7 6|
|Effective FG%:||57.4 1||44.4 2||52.3 3||42.2 1|
|Turnover %:||17.0 2||14.7 14||20.6 10||22.4 4|
|Off. Reb. %:||30.6 10||33.6 12||34.7 4||29.4 4|
|FTA/FGA:||24.1 14||32.1 5||44.8 2||28.3 1|
|3P%:||39.3 1||31.9 5||34.1 7||27.6 1|
|2P%:||56.2 1||43.0 3||52.9 3||42.6 2|
|FT%:||67.1 8||72.3 13||64.7 13||64.7 1|
|Block%:||8.4 1||14.7 1||10.2 7||9.9 8|
|Steal%:||9.4 6||6.4 13||9.5 7||11.4 4|
|Conference statistics only, courtesy of KenPom.com|
|Number to the right indicates conference rank.|
Florida is now healthy, even healthier than they were the last time the Wildcats faced them down in Gainesville. That was the game where Kentucky lost Nerlens Noel as well as the ball game, and since that day, the Gators have dropped a couple on the road.
If Florida has a vulnerability, it is their play away from home. Every one of the five losses they have suffered has been away from the O’Connell Center, but that’s really the way it should be with a good team like the Gators.
Florida will once again execute sharply and test Kentucky’s defensive execution, which has been abysmal since the loss of Noel. Only three teams have held Florida to under 1.1 points per possession in the SEC, and those teams were Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee, three very solid defensive squads.
Kentucky has allowed over 1 point per possession in 7 of its last 8 games. Florida has never lost when it scored over 1 point per possession except at Arizona, where they literally gave the game away in the final seconds. That fact does not bode well for Kentucky.
What does bode well is that Archie Goodwin is finally starting to play pretty well, and Willie Cauley-Stein has played well all year. All that would seem to be necessary for the Wildcats to be competitive in this game is for those two guys to drag Ryan Harrow and Alex Poythress with them. It wouldn’t hurt if Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays would bust out of their current slump, either.
Expect the Wildcats to get an early lead on the surge of passion from the festivities, but if you see the Wildcats drag into halftime down more than a couple of possessions, you are probably looking at yet another defeat.
Kentucky can beat the Gators by getting lane penetration from the guard spot, and kicking the ball out to open shooters. To do that, Kentucky must be very aggressive with the ball, particularly the guards, and force help. They have to avoid weak passes, particularly into the post where the Gators are adept at poking them loose.
Defensively, Kentucky must stay at home on Florida’s shooters, and that’s very hard to do. Not only that, Kentucky hasn’t done it well all year. The only redeeming factor is that Florida can occasionally go very cold from the outside, and we pretty much have to hope for that, because if not, it’s going to be a long afternoon.
Tennessee and Missouri beat the Gators by going to the line and making shots. That’s the other thing the Wildcats must do tomorrow – get to the line and make free throws. If the Wildcats have another 10-18 night like they did at Georgia, you can’t like their chances.
Frankly, it’s hard to like Kentucky’s chances in any case, but Senior Day is special at Kentucky. Perhaps there is yet some magic left in the legendary arena. Perhaps the spirits of Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, John Pelphrey, Goose Givens Kevin Grevey will find their way into the arena tomorrow and inspire Kentucky to take the fight to the Gators.
Let’s hope for something like that.