It's not quite do-or-die time for the Kentucky Wildcats.
It's more like do-or-slowly-die-a-painful-death time for these talented but enigmatic Cats. After Thursday's shocking loss at Tennessee, UK enters Saturday riding a two-game losing streak and in danger of dropping a third consecutive loss for the first time under John Calipari.
Though the Cats are still firmly in the NCAA Tournament, a home loss here would put UK at 16-7 and trending closer to the bubble than a Final Four run that many tough this team was capable of. Time is running out, and the Cats badly need to find some consistency and show us they're the team that led 34-13 at Tennessee and 48-40 at Kansas, and not the one that went on to lose both of those games.
Coming into Rupp Arena Saturday will be a Florida Gators that's been one of the SEC's pleasant surprises this season. After a 10-6 start with four losses at ranked opponents, the Gators have won four of five coming into Saturday, including Tuesday's 87-83 home win over Arkansas.
Florida is led by new head coach Mike White, who was hired this offseason after a successful stint at Louisiana Tech where he won three conference titles. He's also no stranger to Rupp Arena.
As a player in 1998, White helped deliver Ole Miss its first win in Lexington in 71 years, handing UK its final loss before the Wildcats went on a run to the 1998 national title. White had 16 points and six assists in the game, which remains the Rebels' last win at Rupp.
It's also been 18 years since an unranked Florida team defeated a ranked Kentucky team at Rupp Arena, winning behind 24 points each from Jason Williams and Kenyan Weaks in 1998. Florida's two most recent wins at Rupp vs. ranked Wildcats teams came when the Gators were No. 3 (2014) and No. 1 (2007) in the country.
The Gators rely heavily on senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who was just named SEC Player of the Week Earned after a pair of 20-point outings vs. Auburn and MSU. He's posted six double-doubles this season, including three in a row and is the first Gator to do so since Chandler Parsons.
Kentucky holds an undefeated 12-0 mark in Rupp Arena this season but enters the game coming off two straight losses.UK is looking to avoid its first three-game skid under John Calipari.
When: Feb. 6, 2016
Location: Rupp Arena
Game Time: 4 p.m. ET
Announcers: Spero Dedes (PxP) and Bill Raftery (Analyst)
Online Stream: CBS Sports
Radio: UK Radio Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt (info and affiliates)
Odds: Kentucky opened as a 4.5-point favorite and is now favored by 5, per Vegas Insider.
Projected UF Starters
#11 G - Chris Chiozza 6-0, 175 lbs, So.
#34 G - KeVaughn Allen, 6-2, 183 lbs, Fr.
#0 G - Kasey Hill, 6-2, 180 lbs, Jr.
#10 F - Dorian Finney-Smith, 6-8, 220 lbs. Sr.
#15 F - John Egbunu, 6-11, 255 lbs, So.
Projected UK Starters
#3 G - Tyler Ulis, 5-9, 160 lbs, So.
#13 G - Isaiah Briscoe, 6-3, 202 lbs, Fr.
#23 G - Jamal Murray, 6-4, 207 lbs, Fr.
#35 F - Derek Willis, 6-9, 220 lbs, Jr.
#22 F - Alex Poythress, 6-8, 230 lbs, Sr.
My Prediction: This is as close to a must-win game as the Cats will likely face during the regular season. A loss here puts UK firmly on the bubble with a three-game losing streak as the final SEC stretch begins.
Florida has been a tough out for just about everyone they've faced this season, but at the same time, have found it difficult to win on the road. The Cats come out guns blazing and jump out to a big lead behind a rocking Rupp Arena crowd.
But Florida slowly claws back into the game and makes this a one-possession game late but Tyler Ulis comes through in the clutch as UK escapes with a win.
Final Score: Kentucky 71, Florida 65