No. 6 Kentucky seeks to avoid a losing streak ahead of the Southeastern Conference tournament, while Florida aims to solidify its postseason positioning when the two play Saturday in Gainesville, Fla.
Kentucky (24-6, 14-3 SEC) had already sewn up the SEC regular-season championship ahead of Tuesday’s 81-73 loss to Tennessee, but the Wildcats have plenty to play for in the final week. A month-long winning streak spanning eight games placed Kentucky in the mix for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats may still have a path to a top seed come Selection Sunday on March 15, but their margin for error narrowed considerably with the blown 17-point lead against the Volunteers.
“The game got physical and we couldn’t compete,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said in his postgame press conference. “It just got physical. We tried different ways to try to score and we just, we had nothing. Couldn’t throw it to the post. Tried to open up the court, (were not) getting by people.”
Kentucky was outscored 50-31 in the second half in its first loss since Feb. 1 at Auburn.
Florida (19-11, 11-6) was among the teams Kentucky beat during its eight-game streak, 65-59 in Lexington, Ky., on Feb. 22.
The Gators won five of six prior to that matchup and are 2-1 since. Florida bounced back from its own loss to Tennessee, 63-58, on Feb. 29 in Knoxville, Tenn., with a 68-54 win at Georgia on Wednesday.
“We have our deficiencies as a team, but our guys are resilient,” Florida coach Mike White said in his postgame press conference. “They keep plugging away.”
Keyontae Johnson led the Gators with 18 points and 11 rebounds in the win, while Noah Locke hit three 3-pointers en route to 17 points.
Johnson posted 19 points and nine rebounds in the prior meeting with Kentucky, but the Wildcats held Locke scoreless on five shots, all 3-point attempts, in 23 minutes.
At 10.5 points per game, Locke is one of four Gators averaging double-figures along with Andrew Nembhard (11.3), Kerry Blackshear Jr. (13.2) and Johnson (14.1).
Kentucky counters with its own double-figures scoring quartet, led by Immanuel Quickley’s 16.2 points per game. The Wildcats also have Tyrese Maxey at 14.2, followed by Nick Richards (13.9) and Ashton Hagans (11.5).
Scoring was not an issue for Kentucky in its Tennessee loss, however. All four hit for at least 11 points, with Maxey’s 21 leading the way. Rather, the Wildcats gave up 8-of-18 (44.4 percent) on the Volunteers’ 3-point attempts, some 14 percent higher than the team’s season-long yield of 30.3.
Whether from beyond or inside the 3-point arc, the common thread for Kentucky in defeat this season has been defensive lapses. Opponents scored an average of 74 points per game in each of the Wildcats’ six losses. That’s 10 points higher than their allowance in wins.
Conversely, Florida failed to score at least 60 points in five of its losses — including the 58 it scored against Tennessee and its 59 against Kentucky.
–Field Level Media