Here we go, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation — the last hurrah. The final regular-season game of the year. Yet another chance for the Kentucky Wildcats to make history by securing the first undefeated regular season for the Wildcats in decades. All they have to do is handle the Florida Gators, a team that has at times been Kentuckys nemesis, and at other times been little more than a bump in the road. What will tomorrow bring? We'll have to wait and see.
As per usual for a second game, this will be the abbreviated game preview. For a review of Gator personnel and normal starters, see the earlier game preview here.
|When:||Saturday, March 7th|
|Where:||Rupp Arena, Lexington, KY|
|Radio:||UK Sports Radio Network|
|Streaming:||Live video via CBS|
Rank and records:
|Rank and Records||UF||UK|
|Strength of Schedule||#15||#32|
|RPI Top 50||2-10||13-0|
What's changed since the February 3rd meeting
Since last playing Kentucky on February 7th, the Gators have been up and down, playing seven games and losing four of them, all three on the road and one at home. To be fair, the Gators have suffered a month of upheaval, losing Dorian Finney-Smith to suspension and star guard Michael Frazier II to a high-ankle sprain back during the first Kentucky game. Finney-Smith is back after a three-game suspension, and Frazier is said to be likely to play "in some capacity."
Florida, to their credit, has been competitive in every loss except for the head-scratching late-game collapse at Missouri, the weakest team in the league. The Gators have been nothing of their normal, formidable selves all season, finding ways to lose games they should win at some times and playing with almost total indifference at others. Florida has been nothing at all like the dominant, mature team they were last season, and instead has looked very much like the Kentucky Wildcats of last season, only worse. Despite their talent, the Gators are not a strong team, and have not been a strong team all season.
You can see from this graph that the Gators are a poor rebounding team and just don't get to the line enough to make their offense efficient. They also turn the ball over too much.
Notable conference stats
Florida is very much like Georgia, except with a worse record and an inferior offense. Keep in mind that a lot of those inferior offense statistics were compiled when the Gators had two of their best offensive players missing for various and sundry reasons. With Finney-Smith and Frazier available, the Gators are just about as dangerous as they can possibly be, and that's the team that faces Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Saturday.
The challenge for Florida will be to overcome Kentucky's length, size, and power in their own arena — a challenge that has daunted every other team who has attempted it in 18 previous tries. At it's worst, perhaps against Ole Miss, the Wildcats were still able to pull out the win even when the game swung against them.
The challenge for the Wildcats will be focusing on the task at hand. Saturday is senior day, and as it usually is in Kentucky, it will be emotional and powerful. Sometimes, that emotion has done Kentucky in. Sometimes — usually, in fact — it has lifted the Wildcats up to victory.
For Kentucky, this is a chance at history. For Florida, this is merely a chance to thwart a Kentucky team that has sucked all the air out of the SEC by virtue of their unblemished, if not unchallenged, season. Of the two motivations, it seems likely that the Gators' is inferior, and I suspect that will ultimately win the day for the Wildcats.
This has been a long and fascinating season that has but one more chapter to be written. No matter what the outcome of tomorrow's game, Kentucky will be the #1 seed in the SEC Tournament and almost as certainly a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But at this point, the "undefeated" part finally kicks in for good and all, and history will drive some of the motivation for Kentucky.
May it drive them to perfection. Go, 'Cats!