Florida Gators (17-9) at Kentucky Wildcats (21-5)
- Game Time: 6:00 pm EST on Saturday, February 22nd.
- Location: Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.
- TV Channel: Today’s game can be seen on ESPN.
- Announcers: Bob Wischusen, Dick Vitale and Kris Budden will call the action.
- Radio: Tom Leach and Mike Pratt will have the UK radio network call on 630 AM, 98.1 FM in Lexington, and on the UK Sports Network.
- Online radio: TuneIn broadcast or UKAthletics.com.
- Online Stream: The game can be streamed on WatchESPN and on mobile devices using the ESPN app.
- Replay: WatchESPN and the SEC Network (check local listings).
- Odds: Kentucky is a 5-point favorite as of Saturday afternoon. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives Kentucky a 67% chance at victory. KenPom gives the Cats a 66% chance of winning.
- Rosters: UK | UF
- Prediction: KenPom projects a 71-67 victory for Kentucky. TeamRankings is going with a 70-65 win for the Wildcats, while numberFire projects a 71-65 victory for Big Blue Nation.
Don’t look now, but in a season that’s come with considerable peaks and valleys, the Kentucky Wildcats have now won nine of their last 10 games.
Not only was their 79-76 victory down in Baton Rouge an impressive resume addition, it also placed them firmly in the driver’s seat for a SEC regular-season championship.
As of right now, Kentucky sits at 21-5 on the season, 11-2 in conference play, and in sole first place of the SEC. But with just five games left to play, this race is far from over. There are several teams within striking distance as the season winds down.
Auburn is tied for the second place spot, just two games behind Kentucky, but keep in mind that the Tigers do own the tie-breaker after beating the Cats 75-66 on their home floor back on February 1st. LSU is also two games back, but Kentucky now holds the tiebreaker over them.
Also tied for second place are the Florida Gators, who are coming to Rupp Arena on Saturday for an important showdown. The game tips off at 6:00 pm EST and can be seen on ESPN. The primetime slot against a conference rival should make for a good game atmosphere.
Between Auburn, LSU and Florida, it’s probably the Gators who have the best chance of winning a share of the league, being that they play Kentucky twice.
During the Calipari era, you could make a strong case that Florida has been Kentucky’s biggest rival. But since the departure of Billy Donovan, things haven’t quite taken off for the Gators like during his tenure.
There is no denying that Mike White’s team is having a disappointing season based off preseason expectations. The additions of All-American freshman Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann, and grad-transfer Kerry Blackshear had many experts touting the Gators as potential national championship contenders.
However, it was a rough start for Florida when you consider that they accumulated four losses before the New Year hit. A couple of those losses coming at the hands of inferior teams like UConn and Utah State. So it’s fair to say that their preseason expectations have failed to match their on-court play, though they have improved a lot over the last month, winning five of six to put themselves on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Adding Blackshear to the roster, a player that Kentucky desperately wanted, was thought to be a move that would cement Florida as the biggest threat to win the SEC, and as it turns out, they’re no in position to do just that if they can sweep the Wildcats starting Saturday.
At 6-10, 241 pounds, Blackshear is still a force in the paint, despite having yet to play to his full potential since transferring from Virginia Tech this offseason. On the year, he has worked his averages up to 13.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. If he were to get UK’s bigs into foul trouble, that could be a good recipe for an upset in Rupp Arena on Saturday.
Florida’s leading scorer is Keyontae Johnson, who averages 13.7 points and 7 rebound per game, which nearly identical to Blackshear. Johnson can also spread the floor with his 39.1% three-point shooting, though he’s averaging just over one make per game over his last seven contests.
The real three-point threat for Florida is Noah Locke, who’s hitting a blistering 44.5% of his triples this season. over his last three games, Locke has hit 14/22 three-pointers, so it will be imperative that Kentucky key in on him to prevent the Gators from lighting it up from deep.
Running the point for Florida is Andrew Nembhard, who is averaging 11.9 points, 5.5 assists, 1.1 steals and three boards per game. He recently scored 24 points in a win over Georgia and 25 in a win over Texas A&M. He’s coming off a 17-point performance in Florida’s 73-59 win over Arkansas on Tuesday.
You may recall Scottie Lewis, a five-star, top-15 recruit that Kentucky came close to getting in the 2019 class, but the Gators ultimately won out. However, Lewis hasn’t quite lived up to his potential yet, as he’s averaging just 8.0 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. He’s still a great defender that will give Kentucky problems, and he averages 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per contest.
In close games, Florida doesn’t typically get a lot of production from its bench, which mainly consists of point guard Tre Mann, who averages 5.2 points per game, and forward Omar Payne, who averages 4.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.
Even with the team’s struggles, the Gators are still right in the hunt for the SEC, so this game on Saturday is important for Kentucky if they want to remain in control of SEC.
It has not been a common practice to see Calipari go multiple seasons without a regular season conference title since he arrived in Lexington, or even before he got here for that matter. The master motivator is known for winning and winning with consistency.
You can attribute some of UK’s SEC regular-season title drought to the league’s vast improvement over the last few years. But still, you can bet that Coach Cal and his players have their sights set on finishing out their last remaining games no slip-ups.
Kentucky’s trio of guards is continuing to destroy opposing defenses on night in-night-out basis. Immanuel Quickley, Tyrese Maxey, and Ashton Hagans are averaging a combined 41.1 points per game. Quickley’s body of work, especially in conference play, has begun to build a legitimate case for SEC player of the year.
Things haven’t always been pretty, but the Cats have starting to find their stride at just the right time.