Location: Bridgestone Arena – Nashville, Tennessee [Capacity: 19,395]
Time: 1:00 p.m. EDT
SiriusXM: 93/190 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter
|(8) FLORIDA GATORS||(1) KENTUCKY WILDCATS|
|Head Coach: Billy Donovan||Head Coach: John Calipari|
|Record: 16-16 (8-10 SEC)||Record: 31-0 (18-0 SEC)|
|Conference: Southeastern||Conference: Southeastern|
Odds: Florida +13.5
THIRD TIME MAY NOT BE A CHARM FOR FLORIDA
Florida has already dropped two games to Kentucky this season – both by significant margins – though that is not to say the Gators were not competitive in each contest.
In a seven-point home loss to UK, UF led for nearly the entire first half and were up two on the nation’s top team with 12:17 left in the game. The contest remained close with the Wildcats holding just a two-point lead with 1:05 to play. From there, the visitors outscored the hosts 7-2 with all seven points coming at the line.
Kentucky’s win in Rupp Arena was more decisive. Florida trailed by just three with 10:30 to play, but UK outscored UF 23-9 over the remainder of the contest as the Gators made just three field goals in that span.
In other words, Florida knows exactly what it is going up against on Friday.
“Obviously playing Kentucky, it will be our third time, and here twice in less than a week. So on a quick turnaround, I think that’s positive for our guys because there’s at least a familiarity for us where you’ve had a game and you’re playing again [Friday],” Donovan said.
“There’s not a lot of time to prepare; sometimes, [it is] a little bit more difficult when you play against a team that you haven’t seen since let’s say the middle of January. So, these guys will be a little bit familiar with it. The quick turnaround, we’re excited we get the opportunity to play.”
Donovan does not plan to overwhelm the Gators with too many adjustments to their last game plan against the Wildcats, though he does hope to make some corrections and figure out how Florida can attack a Kentucky team – one with so few weaknesses.
One thing working in the Gators’ favor is redshirt junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who has taken his game to a new level after returning from a three-game suspension. Florida as a team has registered four double-doubles this season; Finney-Smith has accounted for three of them in his last five games dating back to Feb. 14.
Since rejoining the team, Finney-Smith is shooting 22-for-42 (.524) from the field and 12-for-22 (.545) from three while averaging nearly a third of a rebound per minute. He accounted for 23 points and a season-high 11 boards on Thursday alone.
“I thought Dorian played a great game all the way around. He played, did a lot of really good things,” Donovan said.
With 28 points and nine rebounds, Finney-Smith is also Florida’s leading scorer and rebound against Kentucky in two games this season.
“Dorian so much last year was up and down; He would have one really good game and four or five games where he kind of disappeared. I think his consistency’s been so much better. I think that’s just a sign of him growing and maturing as a player,” Donovan continued.
“When he’s playing like [he did Thursday], he’s a real matchup problem because what you can do with him is, he’s so smart that you can move him around to different positions and he understands what’s going on. … He can absorb anything from anywhere. When you try to move him around and kind of put him in different positions, it helps him maintain a level of aggressiveness and puts him in a situation where he’s going against a smaller person or a maybe a guy that’s not quick enough to keep up with him.”
For a team in the Wildcats that presents far too many match-up problems for the Gators, Florida will need much more than Finney-Smith to pull off an improbable upset on Friday. But Finney-Smith’s improved play and leadership is certainly a good start for a struggling UF team.
HISTORY, STATS AND STREAKS
» The Gators are the defending SEC Tournament champions and hold a 42-45 all-time in the event, 27-14 under Donovan. UF has won four total tournament crowns, all in the previous 10 tournaments (2005-07, 2014).
» Kentucky owns the all-time series against Florida with a 96-37 record over its rival, though the Gators have been more competitive under Donovan with the Wildcats holding just a 26-17 edge. UF is 4-8 all-time in neutral site games against UK (2-3 under Donovan).
» Donovan is 5-10 against Calipari, winning four of their last seven meetings.
» Last season, Florida became the first team in SEC history to go 18-0 in league play during the regular season; Kentucky replicated that this season and is now looking to match UF’s 21 SEC wins that the team achieved by running through the 2014 SEC Tournament.
» UF beat UK thrice in the same season during the 2013-14 campaign for the first time in school history. The Wildcats have accomplished the feat against the Gators four times (1995-96, 2004, 2012).
» It is the fourth time in the last five seasons (and sixth time in the last 12) that Florida and Kentucky will face each other thrice in the same year.
» The Gators are 2-12 all-time against No. 1-ranked opponents, 2-0 in the NCAA Tournament and 0-12 against the Wildcats with all 12 of those meetings coming in the regular season. UF has never beaten a No. 1-ranked team in the regular season or SEC Tournament.
» Florida was 86-10 over the last three seasons when holding opponents under 71 points in a game; the Gators are 15-12 this season when doing so.
» UF is scoring 64.0 points per game, the third-lowest average in program history (since the statistic was tracked) and worst since 1950-51 (62.7).
» Florida is shooting .436 from the field, its worst mark since 1995-96 (.426) and the second-lowest in program history.
» The Gators are hitting at a .632 clip from the free throw line, matching their worst average since 1951-52 (.617).
» UF is shooting the three at a rate (.326) that is its fourth-lowest in the 29 years the shot has been part of the game, its worst such mark since 2009-10 (.313).
» The Gators have 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).
» Florida has put forward 13 different starting lineups in 32 total games. 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 7-11 in such affairs this season, 2-6 in games that have come down to two points or fewer.
» UF is unlikely to reach 20+ victories this season, ending a streak of 16 consecutive seasons with that many wins. Florida’s 16-straight such campaigns marks the longest streak in the SEC and fifth-longest nationally. Donovan is one of only eight coaches that have ever won 20+ games in 14+ consecutive seasons.
» With the NCAA Tournament seemingly out of the picture barring a UF win in the SEC Tournament, the Gators may be on the NIT’s radar after winning three of its last four games; a victory over UK would ensure an NIT berth.
» Florida posted a record of .500 or worse during the spring semester for the first time since 1997-98.
2015 SEC TOURNAMENT BRACKET
INJURIES AND ABSENCES
» Out (3): Junior F DeVon Walker (ACL), sophomore center John Egbunu (transfer – season), freshman G Brandone Francis (academics – season)