Kentucky Wildcats (24-6) at Florida Gators (19-11)
- Game Time: 1:00 pm EST on Saturday, March 7th.
- Location: Exactech Arena in Gainesville, Florida.
- TV Channel: Saturday’s game can be viewed on CBS.
- 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 online at CBSSports.com.
- Replay: Check local listings on the SEC Network.
- Odds: The Gators are 3-point favorites. ESPN BPI gives Florida a 67.9% chance of victory. KenPom gives the Gators a 62% chance of winning.
- Rosters: UK | FL
- Live Stats
- Predictions: KenPom projects a 70-66 win for Florida. TeamRankings projects a 67-65 win for the Gators, while numberFire is going with a 70-68 victory for the home team.
I am always amazed at how quickly fans of the Kentucky Wildcats change from “we are going to win it all” to “we shouldn’t even be in the tournament. In fact, that seemed to happen during a 15-minute stretch of Tuesday’s loss to the Tennessee Volunteers.
Kentucky went into the game on an eight-game winning streak, and seemed to have a complete meltdown in the second half: offensively, defensively, and with some unfortunate theatrics to boot. It looked like the team fell apart, just in time for tournament play.
The Cats play at Florida on Saturday. And what once seemed like a “bonus” game that could help Kentucky’s case for seeding but not really hurt it has now become must-watch television. That does not mean it is a must-win game, although it is certainly a “need-to” win game. The Cats could end up falling from the 2 seed line to the bottom of the 4 seed line in the span of a week.
More importantly, however, this game will reveal a lot about what really happened on Tuesday. Did the alleged sideline altercation between Ashton Hagans and John Calipari represent a deep-rooted problem, or was it just a bad moment?
Is team chemistry headed in the wrong direction as displayed by the discussion below between Hagans and Nick Richards, or was that just brothers getting caught up in the heat of competition?
Perhaps all of those questions will be answered by what we see on the court against the Gators on Saturday, for better or worse
Florida has not exactly been tearing it up since their loss in Lexington two weeks ago. The Gators are 2-1 with a loss at Tennessee that looked bad until Kentucky’s looked worse on Tuesday. But they did get wins over a flailing LSU team and the Anthony Edwards show at Georgia.
Keyontae Johnson continues to be fantastic, and he is averaging 16.4 points per game since the beginning of February. Kerry Blackshear Jr. had a monster 20 and 9 game against Tennessee, who just abused the Wildcats in the paint a few days ago.
Both of those guys also had huge games in Rupp Arena two weeks ago. Johnson scored 19 and Blackshear put up 18, but they had very little help. Guard Andrew Nembhard had a rough game with only 4 points, while sharpshooter Noah Locke finished 0/5 shooting, and the Gators shot a combined 26.1% from behind the three-point line and 43% from the floor.
Since then, Locke, who is Florida’s best shooter, has scored a combined 32 points in his last two games on 12/21 shooting (6/13 from deep), so it will be imperative that Kentucky keep him in check again to win in Gainesville.
While a lot of Florida’s struggles in the first matchup can be attributed to Kentucky’s defense, particularly, in the second half, you have to be concerned about the Wildcats’ ability to replicate that performance after watching Tennessee score at will on Tuesday.
Given, Richards and Immanuel Quickley were not on their games on Tuesday. Quickley did not shoot well, and despite getting 12 points and 9 rebounds Richards did not look like himself, especially on the defensive end. Both of those guys have to return to form in Gainesville, especially if Hagans continues his regression, for the Wildcats to have a shot at victory.
Coach John Calipari has said all season that Ashton Hagans is his guy and the heart and soul of this team. Yes, I am concerned that he has had four or more turnovers in seven games since the Big 12/SEC Challenge in late January. But it is the heart and soul piece that truly has the potential to tear this team apart.
On Saturday, keep a close eye on Hagans’ body language. Watch his interactions with his teammates. Pay attention to his interactions with Coach Cal. Those observations will be much more important than anything you see him do with the ball in his hands.
Also, for the love of everything holy, do not attack players on Twitter. Let’s be a part of the solution instead of the problem.