Gameday: Florida Gators vs. No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats – Enormous test on a national stage

By Adam Silverstein
February 7, 2015

Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, Florida [Capacity: 11,548]
Time: 9:00 p.m. EST

TV: ESPN (Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas, Shannon Spake)
Streaming Video: WatchESPN.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app

SiriusXM: 91 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]

Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

FLORIDA GATORS No. 1 KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: John Calipari
Record: 12-10 (5-4 SEC) Record: 22-0 (9-0 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern

Odds: Florida +8.5

COLLEGE GAMEDAY

ESPN’s College GameDay will be live from Gainesville for the fourth time in the basketball version of the program’s history – first since 2011. The Gators have been either the host or visitor at the show’s location six times prior, holding a 5-1 record in those games with a perfect 3-0 mark at home in the O’Dome. Five of those previous six contests have come against the Wildcats.

The program will have a taped portion on ESPNU at 10 a.m. followed by a live one-hour show ahead of the day of college basketball at 11 a.m. on ESPN. There will also be a live one-hour pre-game show on ESPN starting at 8 p.m.

Rece Davis hosts with Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg and Jay Williams all on set. Dan Shulman, Bilas and sideline reporter Shannon Spake will call the game. There will also be an announcer-free version of Saturday night’s contest on ESPN3.com.


A RARE DAVID VS. GOLIATH SHOWDOWN

For a Gators team that just picked up their first significant win of the season last week, Florida fell flat on its face against Vanderbilt. That is not a positive in any circumstance but especially not as UF gets geared up to take on the top team in the country – in a game featured live nationally with College GameDay in attendance.

“Obviously, they’re a terrific team. They have a great mixture of young guys. They have experienced guys that have been in the program a couple years. They have really, really good length. Obviously, a terrific defensive team,” said Donovan of UK. “And obviously, they have a tremendous low-post presence. They’re obviously a terrific team and have been No. 1 in the country all year long and have certainly played that way.”

While the Wildcats have indeed proven to be the best team in the nation to this point in the season, the Gators have looked anything but. In fact, Florida is playing so poorly that it is currently on the bubble for the NIT – an NCAA Tournament berth would require a near-perfect finish to the season.

Donovan has not been shy about the talent on UF’s roster this season. While there are good kids and players who individually have plenty of basketball ability, there are simply no true game-breakers. The Gators need to play as a team in order to win games, which they have not been doing but their SEC East rivals certainly have been. Kentucky, of course, also has a roster filled with players from the top recruiting classes in the country the last two seasons.

“There’s a huge discrepancy,” said Donovan of the talent of Saturday’s visitors. “How much of a gap? I don’t know how you would evaluate that. But I would say their talent level is better than anybody in the country right now, with the number of guys they have. But I wouldn’t say it’s just our team. It’s everybody.”

Florida does have one advantage – the Rowdy Reptiles. With Kentucky (and College GameDay) in town, the fans are amped for this contest. Donovan hopes the Gators can take advantage of the atmosphere but said it all starts with the team playing well enough to get the fans on their feet throughout the contest.

“Everyone always feels more comfortable playing at home. The home environment is always a great thing. But you know what? In order for your home crowd to be involved and get involved, you have to play well. I think if you play well, then it makes it that much more difficult,” he said.

The Wildcats will enter the O’Dome with plenty of motivation aside from keeping their undefeated season going, especially after the Gators became the first team since 1979 to sweep them thrice in a single season during the 2013-14 campaign. Donovan said Florida will need to play well on both ends of the court – and do so as a team – to have any chance of pulling off an upset against Kentucky.

“I think you have to try to play against good teams [and] great team defense – it’s important to play collectively and together as a group. They have a lot of answers on the floor and a lot of ways to beat you. Really good teams can beat you in a lot of ways,” he explained.

“They can do it by offensive rebounds. They can do it by posting up. They can do it by making threes. They can do it with their defense and shot-blocking. They can do it by being stifling on the defense. They have a lot of answers. If one part of their game is not going well for them, they have a lot of things they can fall back on.”

The Gators simply do not have those luxuries. Florida’s offense is inconsistent. The defense is, too. One game, UF can lock down its opponents; the next, it uses its hands too much and creates a fouling disparity that is impossible to overcome. Donovan said he has made it clear to the Gators how they need to play on both ends of the court, but at the end of the day, it is still up to the players to execute.

“I think you’re always going to look at guys doing their job. If you have a job to do and you’re not doing your job, what it comes back to generally a lot of times is the effort that needs to take place,” he said.

“One of our struggles, on offense in particular, is our ability to make the next guy better. We do not make each other better out there and that is a challenge every single game. We’ve got to move the floor correctly. We’ve got to extra-pass it. Ball movement, we’re not a one-on-one team. We don’t have those kinds of players or guys who are capable of that.”

It is the first time in a while that Florida is legitimately the David to Kentucky’s Goliath when the SEC’s top two programs clash on Saturday. With Goliath expected to roll, David must find a way to outsmart, outwork and out-effort the top team in a nation in order to have a prayer at a win.

HISTORY, STATS AND STREAKS

» Kentucky is a dominant 94-37 all-time against Florida, and the Wildcats also hold an advantage over the Gators under Donovan with a 24-17 edge.
» UF swept UK in 2013-14, winning all three games and becoming the first team to do so since 1979 (Tennessee). Florida has also been victorious in four of its last five contests against Kentucky.
» The Gators are 11-7 against the Wildcats in the O’Dome under Donovan but still just 24-33 all-time with their SEC East rivals holding an edge in their own building.
» Florida will appear on ESPN College GameDay for the seventh time, fourth in Gainesville; six of those seven appearances have been played against Kentucky. UF is 5-1 all-time when featured on the program, including a 3-0 record in the O’Dome.
» The Gators are 2-10 all-time and 2-3 under Donovan against the No. 1 team in the country; all 10 of those losses are at the hands of the Wildcats (0-3 in Gainesville). UF has never earned a regular-season victory over the top-ranked team in the nation.
» Florida has double-digit losses for the first time since 2011-12. In the last 16 seasons, Donovan has only lost 10+ games six times (including 2014-15).
» The Gators were 86-10 over the last three seasons when holding opponents under 71 points in a game; UF is 11-6 this season when doing so.
» Florida has put forward 10 different starting lineups in 22 regular-season games, using its current starting five in four-straight contests. Overall, 10 players have started at least one game for UF this season.
» The Gators learned to win close games last season, going 15-2 in contests decided by single digits; Florida is 5-7 in such affairs this season.
» UF is on pace for 17 wins in the regular season while looking for its 17th consecutive season with 20+ victories. Florida’s 16-straight campaigns with that many wins is the longest streak in the SEC and fifth-longest nationally. Only eight coaches have ever won 20+ games in 14+ consecutive seasons.
» With the NCAA Tournament seemingly out of the picture, UF still needs to play better just to make the NIT. No SEC team with fewer than 19 victories earned an NIT berth in 2013-14.

INJURIES AND ABSENCES

» Out (2): Sophomore center John Egbunu (transfer – season), freshman G Brandone Francis (academics – season)

Redshirt junior forward Alex Murphy‘s elbow has been giving him some problems, but Donovan does not expect him to miss Saturday’s game. “He fell and he cut it open pretty good and it got infected. He’s got some bursitis in there, too, in his elbow, and they had to put him on an antibiotic. He did miss one day of practice, but I think the doctor and the trainer felt like it wouldn’t be anything in terms of holding him out of a game, so he should be fine,” he said.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan on redshirt junior G Eli Carter’s shot selection and struggles: “I think some of it is shot selection, absolutely with him. He has got to make much, much better decisions when he gets in the lane. And he’s got to be sharper and crisper with the ball than he has been. And he’s got to play with a better speed and pace to him. … He has been, throughout his career, kind of an up-and-down, streaky shooter. I like him shooting the ball when he’s open, but he’s got to make some better decisions in terms of shot selection.”

» Donovan on his point guards – sophomore Kasey Hill and freshman Chris Chiozza – simply not being effective enough: “Kasey and Chiozza have got to get better … reading defense. Chiozza I thought did a phenomenal job against Alabama reading defense, but there’s been times we have not read defense very well. And again, hindsight’s 20-20. I can sit there up in my office and watch the video and slow it down and everything else and see what’s open. They’ve got to be able to find guys that are open when they’re open, and we’re really missing a lot of people in that situation. And that was my point earlier about we don’t necessarily do a great job at making each other better. We’ve got to find ways to make each other better.”

One Comment

  1. Gatorgrad79 says:

    What an indictment of this season that we would be happy with a moral victory by just keeping it close…SMH

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