No. 12 Florida falls flat as No. 16 Kentucky wins 2011 SEC Tournament in 70-54 rout

The weekend of slow starts and long stretches without scoring finally came back to bite the No. 12 Florida Gators (26-7), which fell to the No. 16 Kentucky Wildcats (25-8) 70-54 in the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship on Sunday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA.

Florida scored their fewest points since Jan. 20 as Kentucky kept the pressure on and led the entire second half to win the 27th SEC Tournament title in school history. Guard Brandon Knight led the Wildcats with a game-high 17 points as four of five of his team’s starters scored in double figures.

Kentucky began the game with a high level of efficiency, going 6-for-7 from the field and 3-for-3 from downtown to take an early 14-5 lead. Florida responded with an 11-3 run including eight-straight points and two solid defensive plays from freshman point guard Scottie Wilbekin to reduce their deficit to 17-16.

Moments later, the Gators took their first lead of the game, but the Wildcats erupted on a 9-0 run to go ahead 30-24. Florida failed to score for a 7:12 stretch as Kentucky capitalized and went into the break with a five-point lead built off of a major free throw attempt disparity (14-1) and UF’s numerous first-half turnovers (6) and fouls (9).

The Wildcats also started the second half with great energy, using an 8-0 run off of two Gators turnovers to take a 41-29 lead. Both teams went on a 5:11 scoreless stretch after that, but Kentucky G Darius Miller hit a big three-pointer to give his team a 14-point lead with 9:21 to left to play.

Florida scored five-straight to cut their deficit to eight, but Kentucky maintained their intensity to take a game-high 16-point lead with the clock winding down.

Forward Terrence Jones was the Wildcats’ second-leading scorer with 16 points. Miller was 6-for-8 from the field for 15 points, and G DeAndre Liggins scored 10 for UK. Jones and Liggins each went 7-of-8 from the line.

The free throw shooting and fouling disparity continued through the second half. The widely-panned officiating crew called seven additional fouls on UF and gave their opponent 21 more chances from the charity stripe (29-8) over the course of the game.

However, the Gators also committed 14 turnovers in the contest and only shot 38.6 percent from the floor even though they had eight more field goal attempts and six additional chances from beyond the arc.

Sophomore G Kenny Boynton scored 10 points and was the only Florida player to finish in double figures. Senior F Chandler Parsons contributed nine points and 10 rebounds but was 4-for-12 from the field and 0-for-4 from downtown. Junior PG Erving Walker added eight points but was also an inefficient 3-for-10 from the field.

Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin had the roughest afternoon of any Gators starter, only hitting three shots for seven points while managing just two rebounds and turning the ball over a season-high five times. Wilbekin didn’t score after putting up eight-straight points in the first half, and freshman C Patric Young wound up with four points and seven boards in 18 minutes of game action.

At the conclusion of the game, Boynton and Parsons were both honored with selections to the 2011 SEC All-Tournament Team. Miller was named the event’s MVP.

Florida must regroup as they await word on their position in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, which begins on Thursday. The Gators’ seed and opponent will be announced Sunday at 6 p.m. live on CBS.

Photo Credit: Dave Martin/Associated Press

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2011 SEC Tournament Championship Gameday: No. 12 Florida Gators vs. No. 16 Kentucky Wildcats

Event: 2011 SEC Tournament Championship
Location: Georgia Dome – Atlanta, GA [Capacity: 26,000]
Time: 1:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: ABC/ABCHD
Online Video: ESPN3.com
Online Audio: Yahoo!
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

No. 12 FLORIDA GATORS No. 16 KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: John Calipari
Record: 26-6 Record: 24-8
Division: SEC East Division: SEC East
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Kentucky -2

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Kentucky leads the all-time series against Florida 89-33; the Wildcats swept the Gators last season, but the team’s split their regular season contests in 2011. Florida is 9-5 in their last 14 games against Kentucky and Donovan is 13-19 against them all-time.
» Calipari is 3-1 against Donovan as the Wildcats’ head coach.
» UF and UK have combined to win six of the past eight conference tournament titles. It is only the fourth time both are meeting in the title game, with Kentucky holding a 2-1 advantage in such match-ups.
» Since 2004, Florida has won the most SEC Tournament titles (three – 2005-07) and games (15) in the league. Among the six major conferences, UF ranks only behind Duke and Kansas since 2004 in conference tournament titles and league tournament wins.
» The Gators are 12-2 in their last six trips to the Georgia Dome (18-7 since 1992). They have won two SEC Tournaments (2005, 2007) and a NCAA title (2007) in the stadium. They have also won their last three SEC Tournament final appearances (2005-07).
» Florida has won 18 of their last 21 games (and 10 of their last 11) with 16 victories against RPI top 100 teams.
» UF enters the game having won the 2011 SEC regular season title and as a No. 1-seed in the tournament. UK is a No. 2-seed.
» The current Gators team is the fourth in school history to win 24+ regular season games. They also captured the third outright SEC title in school history (1989, 2007) and are the fifth team in school history to reach 26 wins in a season.
» Florida is 21-1 (10-0 vs. SEC) when holding an opponent under 70 points this year.
» The Gators, struggling all season from the line, are hitting 72.3 percent of their attempts from the charity stripe over the last 10 games.
» Florida is 10-2 when senior forward Chandler Parsons takes 10+ shots from the field. He has moved into the top 20 in school history in scoring (1,393 points) and is one of only two active players in Division I college basketball with over 1,300 points, 800 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 steals. He also became the sixth player in school history with 500+ career field goals after hitting four on Friday.
» Gators junior point guard Erving Walker, hitting a trio of three-pointers on Friday, moved into the top five all time in school history.
» UF has reached 20+ wins for the 13th consecutive season, the longest active streak in the SEC. The Gators have also reached 10 wins in league play for the ninth time in the last 13 years and first time since 2007 (13-3).
» Florida’s +6.2 rebound margin is the best in the SEC.
» The Gators have been averaging 50.2 points in the second half over the last four games, while shooting 61.2 percent from the field and 54.3 percent from downtown. Florida has averaged 81.5 total points over the last for games. In three of those contests, UF scored 49, 56 and 48 points, respectively, in second halves; they outscored opponents by 18.6 points in the second half in those games.
» UF is 7-1 in the SEC this year with three or fewer days to prepare for a game.
» Kentucky bests Florida in two of four major statistical categories including points per game 76.8-71.9 (23rd-87th) and rebounds per game 38.5-37.4 (23rd-58th). However, the Gators hold the advantage in and field goal percentage .463-.460 (47th-62nd) and assists per game 13.8-12.6 (102nd-181st). Florida also holds their opponents to fewer points per game 62.8-64.2, forces more turnovers 12.8-12.3 and grabs more steals 6.0-5.5. UF ranks 7th in RPI (.6395) and fifth in strength of schedule nationally compared to UK being ninth (.6383) and ninth, respectively.

LAST TIME(S) OUT

Florida and Kentucky will square off for the third time this season; the Gators defeated the Wildcats 70-68 in a thriller in Gainesville, FL on Feb. 6, but the Wildcats countered with a significant 76-68 victory in Lexington, KY on Feb. 26. In the first game, Florida fought off a late surge by Kentucky after being up a game-high 13 points with 11:50 remaining. The Gators out-scored the Wildcats 5-2 in the final two minutes of the game to hang on for the win. UK got a measure of revenge in the second game by piling it on UF late in the second half for the decisive victory.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Parsons…the 2011 SEC Player of the Year and a unanimous All-SEC First Team selection…who is averaging double-digit points (11.6) while leading the Gators with 7.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. Parsons ranks No. 1 among active SEC players in rebounds (821), No. 3 in points (1,405) and assists (314) and No. 4 steals (125). At one point he notched three-straight double-doubles and now has seven this year.
» Walker…who was marred in a shooting slump but has rebounded and is still leading his team in scoring with 14.6 points per game while also leading the backcourt in both field goal percentage (.415) and three-point percentage (.379). Walker also tops Florida’s turnover rankings (78) and became the 47th player in school history to score 1,000 points earlier this season.
» Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton…who is arguably the Gators’ most talented player but was struggling with consistency shooting the ball. Boynton is hitting 38.2 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc; however, he is second in scoring with 14.3 points per game and makes a team-high 81.7 percent of his free throws. He is also shooting 89.0 percent from the line (73-of-82) in SEC play. Boynton has been stellar from the floor over the last three games, hitting 48.3 percent of his field goals (29-of-60).
» Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin…who is shooting a team-best 57.3 percent from the floor as a starter this season with most of his buckets coming inside the paint. He averages 11.5 points and 5.7 rebounds a game while being a major presence for UF.
» Senior F Alex Tyus…who is averaging career-lows in points, rebounds and field goal percentage as a starter. Tyus became just the fifth player under Donovan to reach 500 career field goals, accomplishing the feat two weeks ago against Vanderbilt.
» Freshmen PG Scottie Wilbekin and C Patric Young…who are Florida’s primary reserves each averaging over 17 minutes per game. Wilbekin, in relief of Walker, leads UF in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.32:1), while Young averages 3.3 points and 3.6 boards.
» Kentucky G Brandon Knight…who plays a team-high 35.8 minutes as a freshman, averages 17.5 points per game and picks up nearly four rebounds and assists per contest, too. Knight and Boynton are friends who grew up and played both against each other and together in South Florida.
» Wildcats F Terrence Jones…who leads his team in rebounding with 9.0 boards per game and nearly matches Knight in points with 16.5 each contest.
» Kentucky G Doron Lamb…who has been on fire for his team since SEC Tournament play began. Lamb is averaging 13.2 points on the season but has combined to score 34 over the last two games.

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Kentucky gets revenge, hands Florida 76-68 loss

A last-minute win on Feb. 6 in Gainesville, FL helped propel the No. 13 Florida Gators over the No. 22 Kentucky Wildcats in the Southeastern Conference standings. Saturday in Lexington, KY, the Wildcats (20-8, 8-6 SEC) got a measure of revenge by defeating the Gators (22-6, 11-3 SEC) 76-68 in Rupp Arena, extending their home winning streak to 33 games and earning head coach John Calipari his 500th victory.

Guard Darius Miller posted a career-high 24 points for Kentucky on 9-of-15 shooting, and the Wildcats piled it on late in the second half to pull away with a decisive victory.

A 7-0 run toward the end of the first half capped by a three-pointer by G Brandon Knight put UK up four with 5:01 to play. UF responded quickly as G Kenny Boynton scored five-straight as part of a 7-2 run to give the Gators a 27-26 lead. The teams went back-and-forth with the Wildcats pulling ahead 34-33 on a free throw by Knight.

Kentucky scored five-straight to start the second half, but an 8-2 run by Florida including two treys from Boynton tied the game at 41. That is when things fell apart for the Gators.

The Wildcats took off on a 10-2 run to go up 58-49 with 9:39 to go. Florida cut their deficit to five on a layup from senior forward Chandler Parsons, but a three from Miller and a 8-2 run gave Kentucky an 11-point lead with 4:13 remaining.

UK went up a game-high 12 points with the clock winding down. Back-to-back field goals from redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin and senior F Alex Tyus reduced the Wildcats’ lead to six with 42 seconds left, but the Gators were unable to capitalize.

Complementing Miller’s 24 points was Knight, who scored 16 while adding six assists. G Doron Lamb added 14 more for Kentucky. Fs Josh Harrellson (12) and Terrence Jones (nine) were strong on the glass, combining to grab 21 of the team’s 32 rebounds.

Boynton led the way for the UF with one of his best all-around performances this season. He scored a team-high 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting while nailing 5-of-9 three pointers and dishing four assists. Parsons was an efficient 6-for-11 from the field for 15 points to go along with eight boards and seven dimes. Macklin contributed 10 points and five rebounds, and Tyus scored nine with three offensive rebounds.

Junior point guard Erving Walker struggled all game, finishing 2-of-11 from the field (1-for-6 from downtown). He hit all five of his attempts from the charity stripe but was blocked numerous times, took a few questionable shots and turned the ball over twice.

It was a block party for the Wildcats, who rejected the Gators seven times; former Florida F Eloy Vargas blocked Walker twice in five minutes. Kentucky won the rebounding battle 32-29, coughed up four fewer turnovers (6-10) and was more disciplined defensively by committing seven fewer fouls (14-21).

Luckily for UF, SEC West leader Alabama (19-9, 11-3 SEC) simultaneously fell 68-63 to Ole Miss (18-11, 6-8 SEC) on Saturday; the teams remain tied for the conference lead and will square off in Gainesville on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The game will air live on ESPNU and marks Senior Day for the Gators.
 
 

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No. 13 Florida at No. 22 Kentucky Gameday

Location: Rupp Arena – Lexington, KY [Capacity: 23,000]
Time: 4:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: CBS/CBSHD
Online Video: CBSSports.com
Online Audio: Yahoo!
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

No. 13 FLORIDA GATORS No. 22 KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: John Calipari
Record: 22-5 (11-2) Record: 19-8 (7-6)
Division: SEC East Division: SEC East
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Kentucky -8

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Kentucky leads the all-time series against Florida 88-33; the Wildcats swept the Gators last season. However, Florida is 9-4 in their last 13 games against Kentucky and Donovan is 13-18 against them all-time.
» Calipari is 2-1 against Donovan as UK’s head coach.
» Florida has won 17 of its last 20 games (and 14 of their last 16) with 12 victories against RPI top 100 teams.
» The Gators are 19-1 (8-0 in SEC play) when holding an opponent under 70 points this season after limiting Georgia to 62 on Thursday.
» Florida is 7-1 in true road games this year and has a chance to notch eight true road wins for the first time ever under Donovan.
» The Wildcats have a 32-game home winning streak in Lexington (13-0 this season).
» Gators junior point guard Erving Walker, with 194 three-pointers, is sixth all-time at Florida. He is four treys away from moving into the top five.
» Florida is 9-1 when senior forward Chandler Parsons takes 10+ shots from the field. Just 11 more points Parsons will move him into the top 20 in school history in scoring.
» Defeating Tennessee two Saturdays ago, UF reached 20+ wins for the 13th consecutive season, the longest active streak in the SEC. They have also reached 10 wins in league play for the ninth time in the last 13 years and first time since 2007 (13-3).
» A win Saturday would give Florida six-straight victories against SEC opponents for the first time since 2007 (11).
» The Gators, struggling all season from the line, are hitting 73.2 percent of their attempts from the charity stripe over the last five games.
» Kentucky bests Florida in three of four major statistical categories including points per game 77.7-70.9 (20th-121st), rebounds per game 38.7-38.0 (23rd-44th) and field goal percentage .463-.57 (51st-77th). However, the Gators dish more assists per contest 13.6-13.0 (124th-167th) than the Wildcats and hold their opponents to fewer points per game 61.7-64.3. UF ranks 10th in RPI (.6438) and sixth in strength of schedule nationally compared to UK being 13th (.6334) and 11th, respectively.

LAST TIME OUT…

Florida and Kentucky will square off for the second time this season; the Gators defeated the Wildcats 70-68 in Gainesville, FL on Feb. 6. Florida fought off a late surge by Kentucky after being up a game-high 13 points with 11:50 remaining. The Gators out-scored the Wildcats 5-2 in the final two minutes of the game to hang on for the win.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Parsons…who is back to averaging double-digit points (11.0) while leading the Gators with 7.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. Parsons ranks No. 1 among active SEC players in rebounds (775), No. 3 in points (1,330) and No. 4 in assists (295) and steals (119). At one point he notched three-straight double-doubles and now has six this year.
» Walker…who is leading his team in scoring with 14.8 points per game and leading the backcourt in both field goal percentage (.424) and three-point percentage (.383). Walker also leads Florida in turnovers (67) and became the 47th player in school history to score 1,000 points earlier this season.
» Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin…who is shooting a team-best 57.2 percent from the floor this season with most of his buckets coming inside the paint. He averages 11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds a game while being a major presence for UF.
» Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton…who is arguably the Gators’ most talented player but is struggling with consistency shooting the ball. Boynton is only hitting 36.3 percent from the field and 29.8 percent from beyond the arc; however, he is second in scoring with 13.3 points per game and makes a team-high 83.1 percent of his free throws. He is also shooting 90.2 percent from the line (46-of-51) in SEC play.
» Senior F Alex Tyus…who is averaging career-lows in points, rebounds and field goal percentage as a starter. Tyus became just the fifth player under Donovan to reach 500 career field goals, accomplishing the feat two weeks ago against Vanderbilt.
» Freshmen PG Scottie Wilbekin and C Patric Young…who are Florida’s primary reserves each averaging over 17 minutes per game. Wilbekin, in relief of Walker, leads UF in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.25:1), while Young averages 3.3 points and 3.4 boards.
» Kentucky G Brandon Knight…who plays a team-high 35.3 minutes as a freshman, averages 17.7 points per game and picks up nearly four rebounds and assists per contest, too. Knight and Boynton are friends who grew up and played both against each other and together in South Florida.
» Wildcats F Terrence Jones…who leads his team in rebounding with 9.1 boards per game and nearly matches Knight in points with 17.6 per contest.
 

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2/5: Parsons leads resilient, battle-tested team

No. 23 Florida Gators (18-5, 7-2 SEC) head basketball coach Billy Donovan likes to talk – and we like to listen – which is why we have compiled some of the most important news, notes and quotes following his press availability after Saturday’s hard-fought 70-68 win against the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (16-6, 4-4 SEC), Florida’s second win against a top 25 opponent in one week.

WELCOME TO THE CHANDLER PARSONS SHOW II

Florida played quite well as a team Saturday, but if you had to pick a most valuable player down the stretch it would be no one else than senior forward Chandler Parsons. Notching his fifth double-double of the year while leading his team in points (17), rebounds (12) and assists (five), Parsons also hit a clutch free throw at the end of the game (though he did miss another). He won the SEC Player of the Week award on Monday after scoring 35 points and grabbing 23 boards while posting back-to-back double-doubles this week.

“The one guy I thought offensively was really, really good was Chandler Parsons. He had an incredible game. Kenny Boynton gave us great points in production early in the game in the first half, but Chandler was really a complete game,” Donovan said. “I don’t know since I’ve been here if I’ve ever played a guy 20 minutes in the second half. That may be the first time I’ve done that. I wanted to rest him, I wanted to try to get him out of the game, but he was doing too many things. Defensive rebounding, starting the break… I felt like I needed him to facilitate offense against their zone. He was offensive rebounding. He really had a complete game all the way through.”

Donovan continued heaping the praise on Parsons.

“Visually, the greatest growth I’ve ever seen from a player that I’ve coached here at Florida since Joakim Noah,” he said. “[Noah went] from a total enigma – ‘Who is this guy? He plays eight minutes a game.’ – to potentially being the first player taken in the NBA Draft, winning a National Championship and being the finals MVP. Visually, you can see that. Chandler has made the same kind of jumps and steps in terms of understanding what this all is about.

“He came in with a very poor understanding of competition, work ethic, all that goes into this. Where he was from the first day he arrived on campus to where he is now is as great of a jump I’ve seen from a guy in terms of just changing in every possible way. I’m really, really proud of him because he had some stretches there earlier in the year where he really wasn’t shooting the ball well. He knocked down two free throws against Vanderbilt at a crucial time; he made one out of two tonight – I know he was 3-for-6. There’s a presence there with him where he, as a player, is giving me, as a coach, a confidence of him being very reliable.”

WILBEKIN, TYUS SPLIT THE HALVES (After the break…)
Continue Reading » 2/5: Parsons leads resilient, battle-tested team

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Florida holds on to top Kentucky 70-68 in thriller

With ESPN College GameDay in town and an opportunity to set themselves apart from the pack in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern division, the No. 23 Florida Gators (18-5, 7-2 SEC) fought off a late surge by the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats (16-6, 4-4 SEC) to prevail 70-68 over their divisional rival on Saturday evening at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL.

Up a game-high 13 points with 11:50 remaining in the contest, Florida allowed Kentucky fight back and re-take the lead with a 17-3 run over the course of six minutes. However, the Gators would hang in there and out-score the Wildcats 5-2 over the final two minutes of the game to come away with the win.

Florida senior forward Chandler Parsons registered team-highs in points (17), rebounds (12) and assists (five) for his fifth double-double of the season and the 12th of his career. He has now grabbed 10 or more boards in five-straight games and posed a double-double in back-to-back contests as well as three of the last five.

Kentucky scored the first six points of the game before redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin posted five straight to cut Florida’s deficit to one. The Gators took the lead three times in the first half, going into the locker rooms up 34-32 even though Wildcats guard Jon Hood hit a buzzer-beating jumper to end the opening period.

UF started the second half with a 7-0 run to go up nine and an 8-0 run to take their game-high 13-point lead, 55-42. UK answered in kind with their explosive 17-3 run to jump ahead 59-58 with 5:43 remaining in the contest.

The teams traded leads from that point forward with two free throws by Kentucky G Brandon Knight giving his team a 66-65 advantage with 2:05 left. After two free throws by Florida junior point guard Erving Walker, senior F Alex Tyus took over.

Tyus played great defense on Wildcats F Terrence Jones to force a missed jumper, grabbed the rebound and hit a nice jump hook from the baseline on the alternating possession to put the Gators ahead 69-66 with 1:13 to go. Jones responded with a power drive and dunk to make it a one-point game with 43 seconds remaining.

With Macklin on the bench and freshman C Patric Young in for free throw purposes, Parsons was the worst shooter on the court from the charity stripe. Walker worked the clock down before eventually passing to Parsons, who was purposely fouled with 12.7 seconds remaining. He missed the first shot but hit his second attempt from the line, putting Florida ahead two.

Kentucky immediately drove the court, but Knight missed an open three to end the game.

With a school-record 12,663 fans looking on in the O’Dome, the Gators defeated the Wildcats for the ninth time in their last 13 meetings. Florida improved to 15-1 when holding an opponent under 70 points this season and has now won 13 of its last 16 games with 10 victories against RPI top 100 teams.

Struggling from the line this year, UF shot 81.8 percent from the charity stripe. Macklin, the Gators’ worst free throw shooter, was a perfect 3-for-3 from the line and finished with 11 points. After being shut out in the first half, Tyus scored all eight of his points in the second and added four rebounds and two blocks.

Florida’s backcourt of Walker and Boynton both struggled from the field. Walker was 1-for-9 from the floor but 6-for-6 from the line, and Boynton was 4-for-12 from the field and 3-for-3 from the charity stripe; each was 1-for-6 from downtown.

Knight posted a game-high 24 points for Kentucky and hit all four of his three-pointers before missing the potential game-winner. Jones added 18 points and seven rebounds.

The Gators out-rebounded the Wildcats 28-27, dished one more dime, coughed up two fewer turnovers and committed eight less fouls. It is the sixth-straight game Florida has hit the boards harder than their opponent.

Now having defeated their second-straight top 25 team inside a week, UF has three days off before traveling to Columbia, SC to face South Carolina on Wednesday at 8 p.m. The game will air live on SEC Network; check your local listings for availability.

Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

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No. 23 Florida vs. No. 11 Kentucky Gameday

Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 12,000]
Time: 9:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN/ESPNHD
Online Video: ESPN3.com
Online Audio: Yahoo!
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

No. 23 FLORIDA GATORS No. 11 KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: John Calipari
Record: 17-5 (6-2) Record: 16-5 (4-3)
Division: SEC East Division: SEC East
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Kentucky -1; O/U 134

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Kentucky leads the all-time series against Florida 88-32; the Wildcats swept the Gators last season. However, Florida is 8-4 in their last 12 games against Kentucky and is 8-6 when facing them at home under Donovan.
» Calipari is 2-0 against Donovan as UK’s head coach.
» The Gators have won 12 of its last 15 games with nine victories against RPI top 100 teams. Florida is 10-3 at home this season (3-1 against the SEC).
» UF is 3-1 in overtime this season, 3-0 in SEC games that go to overtime and 7-3 this year in games decided by six points or less (4-0 against SEC opponents). Their four overtime games tie a single-season school record (1978-79).
» Florida improved to 14-1 when holding opponents under 70 points this season after holding No. 24 Vanderbilt to 61 points on Tuesday.
» The Gators have out-rebounded their last five opponents by +8.0 rebounds per game and have averaged 15.4 offensive rebounds per game in that same time frame.
» The Wildcats are winning their games by a SEC-high 15.1 points per contest. Kentucky is also the best-shooting team in the conference from beyond the arc, connecting on almost 40 percent of their attempts.
» Kentucky bests Florida in three of four major statistical categories including points per game 77.5-71.1 (29th-123rd), rebounds per game 39.5-39.2 (23rd-26th) and field goal percentage .459-.454 (77th-104th). However, The Gators dish one more assist per contest 14-13 (107th-175th) than the Wildcats and hold their opponents to fewer points per game 61.6-62.4. UK ranks 10th in RPI (.6488) and 13th in strength of schedule nationally compared to UF being 17th (.6316) and seventh, respectively.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Junior point guard Erving Walker…who is leading his team in scoring with 14.5 points per game and leading the backcourt in both field goal percentage (.425) and three-point percentage (.383). Walker also leads the Gators in turnovers (57) and became the 47th player in school history to score 1,000 points earlier this season.
» Senior forward Chandler Parsons…who is back to averaging double-digit points (10.7) while leading the Gators with 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Parsons ranks No. 1 among active SEC players in rebounds (741), No. 3 in points (1,280) and No. 4 in assists (279) and steals (117).
» Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin…who is shooting a team-best 57.8 percent as a starter this season with most of his buckets coming inside the paint. He averages 11.1 points and 6.3 rebounds a game while being a major presence for Florida.
» Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton…who is arguably UF’s most talented player but is struggling with consistency in his field goal percentage. Boynton is only shooting 35.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from beyond the arc; however, he is second on the team in scoring with 13.0 points per game and hits 82.5 percent of his free throws.
» Senior F Alex Tyus…who is averaging career-lows in points, rebounds and field goal percentage as a starter. Tyus became just the fifth player under Donovan to reach 500 career field goals, accomplishing the feat Tuesday against Vanderbilt.
» Freshmen PG Scottie Wilbekin and C Patric Young…who are the Gators primary reserves each averaging 17.1. Wilbekin, in relief of Walker, leads Florida in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5:1), while Young averages 3.4 points and 3.4 boards off the bench.
» Kentucky G Brandon Knight…who plays a team-high 35.0 minutes as a freshman, averages 17.2 points per game and picks up nearly four rebounds and assists per contest, too. Knight and Boynton are friends who grew up and played both against each other and together in South Florida.
» Wildcats F Jeffrey Taylor …who leads his team in scoring and rebounding with 17.9 points and 9.0 boards per game.

ESPN COLLEGE GAMEDAY

Visiting Gainesville for the first time since 2008 and third time overall, ESPN College GameDay emanated from the O’Connell Center Saturday at 10 a.m. and will once again with a pregame show an hour before the game begins. Donovan and Calipari were both interviewed in the morning; you can view the video below to see what they had to say.

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2/3: Donovan on struggling starters, experience

No. 23 Florida Gators (17-5, 6-2 SEC) head basketball coach Billy Donovan likes to talk – and we like to listen – which is why we have compiled some of the most important news, notes and quotes from his media availability on Thursday.

STRUGGLING STARTERS

Though redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin, senior forward Chandler Parsons and junior point guard Erving Walker have by all accounts had solid seasons up to this point, Florida’s other two starters have yet to find a consistent groove. Donovan is not overly concerned with that fact, pointing out a few nuances to each player’s game.

“He really made a great jump in my opinion coming out of the Mississippi State game,” he said of sophomore guard Kenny Boynton. “In the Mississippi State game, he had some really, really good looks – open looks – and the ball didn’t go in the basket for him. And I really thought that affected him on the defensive end and his energy. He did a phenomenal job on [John] Jenkins. I know he scored 22 points, but it wasn’t from the three-point line, it wasn’t wide-open looks. I think we made him work for it. He got to the free throw line. He had some drives. Even though he was not having a prolific scoring night, he really was locked in defensively to try to do the best job he could on Jenkins.”

For his part, Boynton is getting the message Donovan is sending. “I just try to put the last play behind me,” Boynton said of his attitude when he’s struggling to knock down shots. “Coach Donovan, he doesn’t want anybody out there frustrated or thinking about the last play, he just wants us to play whether or not our shots are falling. Last year was pretty hard for me to do because I wasn’t used to it. This year is easier; [I] just go back and play defense the next possession.”

With senior F Alex Tyus, Donovan thinks the guys he has had to go one-on-one with have caused the biggest problem. “The one thing that’s been hard for Alex is he’s had a lot of very, very difficult match-ups at the power forward spot,” he said. “He’s had some really, really difficult match-ups. Alex has really been trying to focus on defending. Because when you’re going against those kind of guys, and we’re trying to provide some help for him, you probably have a tendency to focus a little bit less on your offense. […] You look at the match-ups he’s had to go against, there’s going to be a dip in offensive production because he’s had to focus so much on playing defense.”

EXPERIENCE DOESN’T WIN GAMES

Asked how the team’s veteran leadership and experience of playing four overtime games (and winning three) this season will help in the future, Donovan simply said it will not by noting that age and “being there” before don’t matter nearly as much as performing to the best of your abilities.

“I don’t think so,” he said of the notion. “Last year’s Kentucky team with all those young guys did pull out close games. There was a thought when I had [Joakim] Noah, [Al] Horford and [Corey] Brewer and they were all sophomores that there was no NCAA Tournament experience … and you have to have an experienced team to go deep into the tournament … and they proved that wrong.

“Just because we’ve won some close games does not ensure the fact that we’re going to win all of them going forward. Anything that’s happened in the past has no bearing on the next time you’re in that situation other than the fact that there’s a level of familiarity. You still have to make the plays that are necessary [to win the game]. You still have to execute, perform and do those things in those situations. Just because you did it last time doesn’t mean you’re going to do it [another] time. You got to execute, focus and do the right things at that time to the best of your ability.”

Parsons neither agreed nor disagreed with Donovan but did point out that the team’s three overtime victories have given the Gators more confidence as a unit. “Having four overtime games and winning three of them really shows something about our team and how we keep playing,” he said. “It’s all about effort, executing our offense, playing defense and getting those big stops when we need them. And then obviously our guys coming up with some big shots.”

QUOTES (After the break…)
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