Kentucky Wildcats (3-6) at Florida Gators (5-2)
- Game Time: 5:00 pm EST on Saturday, January 9th.
- Location: Exactech Arena at Stephen O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida.
- TV Channel: Today’s game can be seen on ESPN.
- Announcers: Bob Wischusen and Dick Vitale will call the action.
- Online Stream: WatchESPN and fuboTV (free trial).
- 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.
- Satellite Radio: XM 381 | Internet 971
- Replay: WatchESPN and the SEC Network (check local listings).
- Rosters: UK | UF
- Last Game Box Scores: UK | UF
- Stats to Know: UK | UF
- Odds: Florida opened as a 5-point favorite. The line is now down to 4.5. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives Florida a 76.7% chance at winning. KenPom gives the Gators a 68% chance of victory.
- Prediction: KenPom projects a 73-68 win for Florida. TeamRankings projects a 72-68 win for the Gators, while numberFire is going with a 73-68 win for the home team.
While we wait, here’s a look back at the thrilling victory Kentucky had the last time these two teams clash in Gainesville.
The 3-6 Kentucky Wildcats are undefeated in 2021, with narrow victories at Mississippi State and at home against Vanderbilt. On Saturday, the Cats will have their biggest challenge of the new year: facing the Florida Gators in Gainesville.
Florida comes into the game with a record of 5-2. Their losses have both come on the road, losing by double digits at Florida State and at Alabama. The only common opponent the Gators have shared with Kentucky is Vanderbilt, who Florida beat by 19 points.
Obviously, the Gators are not as strong as they were coming into the season with the loss of Keyontae Johnson. However, they still have a tone of talent, and Mike White has done a great job of helping his team adapt to playing without their star.
Florida is led in scoring, rebounding and assists by sophomore guard Tre Mann. That makes it sound like the Gators are a one-man show, but that is certainly not the case. He leads in all of those categories by a narrow margin, and Florida has three players averaging double figures in points and two more knocking on the door.
Former Kentucky recruit Scottie Lewis is having a bit of a breakout season thus far, as he’s averaging 12.3 points, 4.6 boards, 1.6 blocks and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 49% from the field and 43.8% from deep. Arguably the best game of his young career came in the 2020 finale when Kentucky rallied to beat the Gators in Gainesville. That game saw Lewis score 19 points on 5/8 shooting with a pair of steals.
Junior guard Noah Locke is one of the best shooters in the SEC, as he’s hit 40% from deep since the start of the 2019-20 season. He’s averaging 9.9 points and hitting 42.9% of his threes, and most of his attempts are from deep (averaging 5.0 per game), so keeping him contained on the perimeter will be a big key for the Wildcats winning in Gainesville.
One other guard to watch for is junior Tyree Appleby. Originally from Cleveland State, Appleby is averaging 8.9 points, 2.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game while shooting 44.2% from the floor, though he’s only hitting 31.6% of his threes.
Appleby is coming off his best game of the season, as he scored 18 points on 6/12 shooting (2/4 from deep) with four boards, three assists, two steals and a block in Florida’s 86-71 loss at Alabama.
Since Johnson went out, Florida’s frontcourt has been saved by the emergence of junior forward Colin Castleton. The Michigan transfer scored just 26 points through his first four games.
But in the three games since Johnson was lost, Castleton has averaged 19 points, 6.3 rebounds and a block per game. He’s become a go-to guy on offense and one of the biggest surprises of the SEC season thus far.
Florida is also getting good production out of junior forward Anthony Duruji, who transferred in from Louisiana Tech, where Mike White was previously the head coach. Since Johnson went down, Duruji is averaging 11.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals and a block per game.
One of the Gators’ biggest issues is fouling, as they rank 322nd nationally in fouls per game (22.1) and 306th in opponent free throws made per game (24). Kentucky hasn’t been great in the free-throw department, ranking 168th in makes (13.2) and 233rd in shooting percentage (67.6%).
The good news is the Wildcats are coming off their best free-throw performance, as they converted 26/32 attempts (81.3%) in the three-point win over Vanderbilt. With Saturday’s game likely to be another close battle that comes down to the final five minutes, Kentucky’s free-throw shooting could ultimately decide who wins in Gainesville.
This is going to be a very tough matchup for Kentucky. The Gators, as a team, shoot the lights out. They have three different players shooting better than 42% from behind the three-point line. Mann has hit 44.8% from deep on the season. The Wildcats’ perimeter defense has been suspect throughout the season, and if they are not careful Florida could run away with this one.
Oliver Sarr had a breakout game against Vanderbilt on Tuesday, leading Kentucky with 24 points. That is the version of Sarr that Kentucky needs moving forward if they hope to make the NCAA Tournament. He will be matched up in what should be a good battle with Castleton. Both players average just shy of 12 points and around six rebounds per game, and they are some of the more experienced frontcourt players in the conference.
There is also a great deal of uncertainty with Kentucky’s roster. Will Terrence Clarke be available for the game? Will Keion Brooks Jr. ever suit up? He had a breakout game in Gainesville last season and will be a major boost for the Cats if/when he returns this season, but his status remains the biggest mystery with this team.
And what will the rotation look like with BJ Boston’s ongoing struggles? This team is still looking to find themselves in so many ways.
With Kentucky trying to get back to .500 and the Gators coming off of a big loss at Alabama, both teams are desperate for a win. Florida is always a tough matchup in Gainesville, and this game will be no different.
The Gators will almost certainly be favored, and the Cats will have their hands full come tip-off on Saturday at 5 p.m.