Florida Gators (17-13) at Kentucky Wildcats (25-5)
Date: March 9th, 2019
Game Time: 2 pm EST
Location: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Kentucky
TV Channel: CBS
Announcers: Spero Dedes and Jim Spanarkel will be on the call.
Radio: Tom Leach and Mike Pratt will have the UK radio network call on 630 AM and 98.1 FM in Lexington or online at UKAthletics.com.
Replay: Check local listings on the SEC Network.
Odds: Kentucky opened as a 12-point favorite. KenPom projected the Wildcats to be a 10.5-point favorite. Go here for betting trends and analysis.
Prediction: ESPN gives Kentucky a 87% chance of beating Florida. KenPom gives the Wildcats an 81% chance to win and projects a 68-58 win for the home team. Go here for our staff predictions.
Today, the Wildcats play their final home game of the 2018-19 season as Florida travels to Rupp Arena.
The Gators will be traveling to Lexington after demoralizing 79-78 overtime loss to LSU on Wednesday, leaving them with a disappointing record of 17-13 and firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Florida head coach Mike White has not quite produced the positive trajectory that he hoped for after making an Elite 8 run in 2017. Now in his fourth season, Coach White’s team finished 21-13 a season ago and lost in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32. Florida is sure to be hyped up to get a big win against a top-five team.
Kentucky was tested in Gainesville back on February 2nd but used a second half surge to beat Florida 65-54. The Cats were trailing at halftime, but showed some moxie on the road and left with a solid win.
UK was lead by Tyler Herro’s 19 points, which included 3 three-pointers. Herro, minus the Tennessee game, has been red hot as of late and will be aiming to keep it going in the season finale.
Saturday will also commemorate Senior Day and put even more focus on Reid Travis’s knee injury. Calipari said he wouldn’t count on the grad transfer being available, but I would have to imagine that the big guy will do anything that he can to see some minutes on Senior Day.
The season is over already?
It seems like just a short time ago that fans were foaming out of their mouths for the season to begin after getting a glimpse of this team in the Bahamas. In actuality, that was way back in August, and there have been many peaks and valleys since then.
After being embarrassed by Duke in the opening Champions Classic game, you would have been hard pressed to find many people that still had faith in Kentucky’s chances to secure a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But those hopes are alive and well after the Cats willed themselves to an 80-76 victory in Oxford on Tuesday night.
If Kentucky beats Florida and Auburn also beats Tennessee on Saturday, that will secure the 2 seed in the SEC Tournament for the Cats. Kentucky is likely going to be a 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and needs to finish out strong to secure a top spot on Selection Sunday.
3 things to watch for
Point guard play
It is extremely disconcerting to be discussing poor point guard play in a preview post for the final regular season game of the year. But unfortunately, that is where it stands for Kentucky at this moment in time.
Uncertainty in the back court is not a problem that anybody wants to be dealing with just weeks before the NCAA tournament. So it is imperative that Ashton Hagans figures things out sooner rather than later. There would be no better place to regain confidence than in the friendly confines of Rupp Arena for the very last home game in front of the Big Blue Nation.
A few weeks ago, the notion that Hagans would be under-performing in March would have been scoffed at. There was just no evidence to support him regressing. But there is now a real, tangible pattern of poor play from the freshman point guard who, at times this season, has looked like an All-American, at least defensively.
Over his last eight games, Hagans has only recorded multiple steals in just one contest. In that same eight game stretch, he has accounted for 19 turnovers by himself on offense.
The confidence of Hagans just seems to be damaged right now, and it needs to be corrected. He didn’t have the best game down in Gainesville in the first meeting with Florida, where he scored 6 points on 2-5 shooting and was responsible for 3 turnovers.
Things won’t get any easier on Saturday, as Florida also has a talented freshman point guard. Andrew Nembhard is a long, pass-first type point guard who played exceptional in the first meeting against Kentucky where he scored 12 points and dished out 3 assists while controlling a good portion of the game.
You can only assume that getting Hagans back on track is an absolute top priority for Coach Calipari and the coaching staff. If there is any one thing to keep your eye on, it will be the play of the back court over the next few games.
Immanuel Quickley has been playing more minutes as of late and really finding his niche. Watch for him to get increased responsibilities if Hagans doesn’t revert back to his old ways.
As if Reid Travis’s knee injury wasn’t upsetting enough, when you now factor in the idea that he could miss playing in Rupp Arena for Senior Day, it adds an even more depressing element.
There have been varying reports on exactly where Reid Travis is at on his journey back to health. During Kentucky’s game against Ole Miss, it was reported on ESPN that he was seen sprinting on a treadmill while in Oxford. But then Coach Calipari also made mention that Travis has not been practicing with the team and that he would not be counting on him to play against Florida.
Here were Cal’s exact comments on Reid Travis potentially playing on Saturday:
”I’m not gonna count on him for Friday or Saturday – I’m just not,” Calipari said. “And if he says, ‘Hey man, I think I can go and I can practice for a couple days,’ maybe shove him in a little bit to let him get his feet underneath him and see how he does, maybe not. But I’m not afraid not to play him.
“This is about his health. The issue sometimes is you’re OK to go, but you’re just uncomfortable or you’re a little bit afraid of it. His is not – Thank God, his injury is not that one. He sprained his knee, but it’s still a scary thing for these kids.”
In February’s win against Florida, Reid Travis played 27 minutes and scored 6 points to go along with 7 rebounds. But the last four games without him have proven that it is not only the stat sheet that can measure his presence.
The leadership that Travis brings is such a critical component to this team and it has shown in his absence. The Cats have been rather fortunate to go 3-1 without him.
After Cal’s comments, it seems like a long shot, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Travis get sprinkled in for some minutes on Saturday. Rupp Arena doesn’t get a ton of Senior Day moments, and I would imagine that everyone involved will be doing everything possible to see that Travis gets an opportunity to see action.
But also keep in mind that there won’t be a lot on the line in Saturday’s game except seeding for the SEC tournament. So a healthy Reid Travis for the NCAA Tournament is above all else the most important factor, even if it will sting watching him sit on the bench in street clothes on Senior Day. Sigh.
Going by the numbers there is no logic, that says the Gators should be able to play with Kentucky, especially in Rupp Arena. Florida averages a measly 68 points per game and only shoots 33% from three. They also don’t really have much star power with KeVaughn Allen leading them in scoring at 12 points per game.
All that being said, Kentucky can run Florida out of the gym if they come out with calculated engagement from the opening tip. In the first meeting, it was Florida that took some early momentum which ultimately translated into a halftime deficit for the Cats.
I would look for some early touches into PJ Washington to set the tone on offense. His foul trouble, and Reid Travis’s absence, has really set UK back in the last few games. This would be a good one for PJ Washington to get back to his SEC Player of the Year caliber of play.
Players to watch
KeVaughn Allen: 12 points per game
Allen was supposed to be one of the best players in the conference this season, but has had a mediocre year. In the first meeting with Kentucky, Allen scored just 6 points on just 5-15 shooting. He also recently shot just 1-10 in a match up with Georgia. The Cats should try to keep him off the free throw line because he makes 89% of his attempts.
Noah Locke: 10 points per game and 39% three-point shooter
Locke didn’t shoot very well against Kentucky in the first meeting down in Gainesville, but he is still a top-3 three-point maker in the SEC. He would be a good candidate to have a lights out game in Rupp Arena so the Cats better close out on him with a purpose.
Andrew Nembhard: 8 points and 5 assists per game
Nembhard is a talented freshman guard who is near the top of the SEC in assists. At 6-5, he is long and has a pass-first mentality to get his teammates involved. Ashton Hagans will have a great opportunity to play the disruptor on defense like he has shown in the past. We need to see the old Ashton Hagans that was a lockdown defender and shut out Nembhard this week.
Jaylen Hudson: 7.8 points per game
After returning for his senior season, Jalen Hudson was expected to be one of the SEC’s better guards. However, major inconsistencies led to him falling into a lesser role as the season rolled on. But now, Hudson is getting hot. He is coming off a 33 point explosion in the loss to LSU where he shot 11-20. His confidence will be as high as it has been all season.