The University of Florida and Kentucky have been far from dominating this season but even their inconsistent play hasn’t changed a familiar scenario: they’re playing on Saturday with first place in the SEC at stake.
The Gators (13-5, 5-1) lead the conference by a half-game over Auburn (4-1) and one game over the Wildcats (14-4, 4-2) and Alabama (4-2) entering their 8:15 p.m. game against UK at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.
And the usual trappings are in place: ESPN’s GameDay is in the house and the Gators and Wildcats are performing in prime time.
Florida will be trying to accomplish one of the most difficult tasks in college basketball: winning at Rupp Arena. Kentucky is 10-0 at home this season and the Gators have dropped 14 of their last 17 there since 1999.
The three games the Gators have won at Kentucky were during seasons in which they reached the Final Four, 2006, 2007 and 2014.
“That’s a pretty good example of how hard it is to win there,” UF coach Mike White said. “It’s very difficult, a great environment. It will be very loud and we have a tough task ahead of us. We have to do our best to not freak out because at times it gets very loud.”
White hopes his team will focus more on trying to contend with a typical Kentucky team: tall and fast.
“A bigger factor [than the crowd] will be defending those guys and getting clean looks against their defense,” he said.
It will be strength against strength. The Gators lead the SEC in 3-pointers made with 177 (Kentucky has only 89, the fewest in the league) and in 3-point percentage with .397. But UK is first in the SEC and fifth in the nation in defending the 3-point shot, allowing only 29 percent.
The Wildcats have made up for their lack of outside shooting with the usual stable of athletes, led by 6-foot-9 forward Kevin Knox, the son of the former Florida State wide receiver with the same name. Knox leads UK with 14.6 points per game and is tied for first in rebounding with 5.7 per game.
Florida got some encouragement when KeVaughn Allen broke out of his shooting slump to score 28 in a victory over Arkansas on Wednesday, making 6 of 7 from the 3-point arc. If he continues his improvement, Kentucky won’t be able to focus solely on leading scorers Egor Koulechov or Jalen Hudson.