Rivalry week is here. The game Florida Basketball fans have been waiting for is here. The Florida Gators take on the Kentucky Wildcats Tuesday night in the O-Dome in what will be the biggest game for the Gators so far. While Kentucky has dropped two SEC games, and is currently ranked just 25th in the nation, the Wildcats are still a very dangerous team. They currently sit behind Florida in the SEC standings. And with Florida being short-handed without forward Will Yeguete for the remainder of the regular season due to knee surgery, the Gators have to be up to the task. Florida is looking to snap a 5-game losing streak to the Wildcats. Lets break down the Cats to see what Florida is up against.
As far as schedules are concerned, Kentucky has had some slip-ups along the way, especially in SEC play. Kentucky lost two games against Baylor and Notre Dame in non-conference play- neither of which teams were ranked at the time. In SEC play, they dropped two games in January. First came losing by 12 to Texas A&M, who they squeaked by on Feb. 2nd to win in OT 72-68, and losing to Alabama, who are (7-3) in league play.
The most impressive player for Kentucky this season has been freshman Nerlens Noel. Noel averages 10.6 points per game along with close to 10 rebounds per game. Not to mention, he currently leads the NCAA in shots blocked, and has racked up 108 so far this season. Patric Young has to be extremely careful not to get into foul trouble this game going up against Noel. The Young-Noel match up will be huge this game.
Kentucky’s talent does not stop at Noel. Freshman guard Archie Goodwin leads the Wildcats with 14 points per game, and shoots at 43% from the floor. Goodwin had an impressive 24 points against Ole Miss two weeks ago. Forward Alex Poythress averages 12 PPG, and is hot behind the free-throw line, shooting at 72%. Senior guard Julius Mays also is shooting impressively well at the foul line at 85%. Off the Kentucky bench, forward Kyle Wiltjer had a season-high 25 points against Ole Miss, and Willy Cauley-Stein is shooting at 65% from the floor.
The Ole Miss game went very similar for the Cats as it did for the Gators, only because both teams earned a victory over the Rebels. There were differences in both teams’ wins. Breaking down both Florida and Kentucky’s Ole Miss victories is crucial to get a feel for this Cats/Gators match up.
Florida outscored Ole Miss from the get-go, and impressively did not allow the Rebels to take the lead…once. The closest they got was tying the Gators just 3 minutes into the game, where Ole Miss and Florida each had 5 points. For the Wildcats, the game was much closer throughout.
While it appeared Kentucky would run away with it 11 minutes into the second half, Ole Miss roared back from a 17-point deficit to cut the Wildcat lead to just one point, the score being 73-72 with 4:29 left. From then on, Kentucky went on a scoring run to win handily, 87-74.
Another important aspect of the games against the Rebels was the rebounding margin. Ole Miss had a ridiculous 26 offensive rebounds against the Wildcats, whereas Florida gave up just 9 to the Rebels. Florida has a +8 rebound margin against opponents, something that has helped Florida significantly. Granted, Yeguete was averaging 6 RPG before hurting his knee, but Casey Prather and Michael Frazier II, who are seeing much more playing time due to Yeguete’s absence, combined for 12 rebounds Saturday against Mississippi State.
One aspect Florida has to improve upon if it wants to take down Kentucky is its defense behind the arc. The Gators gave up 6 three-pointers against Mississippi State, and in an upset loss to Arkansas, the Razorbacks made an astounding 10 three-pointers. Kentucky comes in averaging just under 6 treys per game, shooting at 36% from behind the arc.
Billy Donovan addressed his team’s 3-point defense in his press conference on Monday saying, “That is an area where we have to do a better job and have more of a sense of urgency. Understanding personnel, understanding who we are closing out to, those kind of things are important. Starting the game against Mississippi State, they go two of their first four and we were late and we didn’t need to be late on a couple of them. That is certainly something we have to get better at.” (Quote via gatorzone.com story, here).
Kentucky-Florida should be a great one, with a fired up O-Dome sure to make the atmosphere nothing short of electric. If Florida can pull out a win against the Wildcats, they will become a favorite to win the SEC title, the Gators will add another impressive W to their resume. Tip-off is set for 7P.M. on ESPN.
Morgan Moriarty is a sophomore Telecommunications major at the University of Florida. She works in the Office of Student Life on campus, and covers college football and recruiting for ESPN Radio 850/900. She is also on the University of Florida Women’s Club Water Polo Team. Follow her on Twitter @moriarty343