Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla.
Kentucky 2 (No. 1 SEC)
Florida 19 (No. 2 SEC)
Line: Kentucky +5 (139.5)
Kentucky Players to Watch: F Anthony Davis, 6-10 Fr. (14.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 4.7 bpg); F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, 6-7 Fr. (12 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.1 apg); G Doron Lamb, 6-4 So. (13.5 ppg, 47.4% FG, 48.4% 3s). Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are arguably the nation’s two best freshmen. Last week Davis was named SEC Player of the Week and Kidd-Gilchrist won the Freshman of the Week honor. Davis averaged 20.5 points, 11 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots in wins over Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. MKG scored 26 points, grabbed 18 boards, had four assists, three blocks and three steals in the two wins.
Florida Players to Watch: G Erving Walker, 5-8 Sr. (12.6 ppg, 4.7 apg, 3 rpg); G Kenny Boynton, 6-2 Jr. (17.1 ppg, 2.5 apg, 43.9% 3s); C Patric Young, 6-9 So. (10.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 61.2% FG). Walker is Florida’s all-time leader in assists (519) and minutes played (4,133) and is second in program history with 276 3-pointers made. He needs 12 3s to pass Lee Humphrey for top the school’s all-time list. The senior is the school’s fourth all-time leading scorer.
Storylines: Kentucky has won 21 in a row, including all 15 SEC games to clinch the league title. Florida has lost two in a row – both on the road – but the Gators are still in a second-place tie in the league with Vanderbilt.
Keys: Kentucky won the first meeting – back on Feb. 7 – when it shot 52.7 percent from the field and held the Gators to 22-of-63 (34.9 percent). Florida made just six of their 27 3-pointers in the defeat. Both teams have clinched a first-round bye for the SEC Tournament. They can clinch the 2 seed with a win over Kentucky. The Gators can do no worse than third.
The Wildcats lead the nation in scoring margin (plus-19.4), field goal defense (36.4) and blocked shots (9.0). They also are tops in the SEC in scoring (77.8, 19th nationally), field goal percentage (48.9, 11th in the country), free throw percentage (72.4), rebounding average (39.2) and rebound margin (plus-7.4, 10th in America). If UK has one weakness, it’s turnover. It has turned the ball over 348 times and forced 371. However, the Wildcats have improved in that category with the improvement of freshman PG Marquise Teague. The Gators have four players averaging in double-figures, led by Boynton. All five starters average at least 9.9. Florida is the nation’s top 3-point shooting team, converting 10 per game. They have hit 10 or more in 19 games this season. The Gators also lead the league in assists per game at 14.9 per game and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3-to-1). Walker leads the SEC at 2.3-to-1 and is second in assists at 4.7. Kentucky leads the all-time series vs. Florida, 91-33. Six of the last nine meetings in the series have been decided by single digits. Florida is 14-1 at home this season with the only loss coming on Feb. 11 to Tennessee, 75-70. The Wildcats are 8-1 on the road, including an 8-0 mark in the SEC.
The Bottom Line: If Kentucky wins this one in a really tough environment against a pretty good team, then we’ll know that the Wildcats are really, really good.
The Pick: Florida 81, Kentucky 76