It's Still Kentucky

Wipe away the records or recent success or maybe lack of success. When Florida rolls into town in Lexington on Saturday, they know this is still ‘Big Blue' they are facing. The Kentucky Wildcats program is the shining light for the SEC in most seasons. A year away from a national title, things may not be as rosy as they have been. But this is still Kentucky the Gators are facing Saturday at noon.

Ask Billy Donovan if he thinks this is going to be a tough match for his kids, and the Florida head coach won't hesitate to tell you why it will be.

"Twenty-four thousand… (and a) great environment there. It's as good as anywhere in the country."

"Good teams, good players, great home-court advantage, great tradition. I don't know what else it could come down to."

Some will chastise Florida and its high ranking for not having a major road win on the season. Donovan doesn't necessarily agree with that and believes outside of a miserable game against Arkansas , the Gators have played pretty well on the road and come up short a few times.

"I don't know if I look at that," he said. "I think sometimes on the road you've got to give the opponent some credit. You go into Tennessee with six players and gave ourselves a chance to win. We go into Missouri with seven guys and we're right there with an opportunity to win the game. That's what you want.

"I'd be a lot more concerned or alarmed if we're going in and not having a chance to compete or play in the game. But we've been able to do that up to this point in time. On the road, we've got a winning record on the road. I think our guys have done a really good job on the road this year.

Florida beat Kentucky handily in Gainesville last month and during the game the Wildcats lost probably their best player to an ACL tear on a freak accident after running into the goal. Nerlens Noel was setting records with shot blocks and his ability to play above the rim was making a real difference for Kentucky at the time. Since his departure, the Wildcats have had a hard time adjusting.

"Their team probably has changed losing Nerlens," Donovan said. "He's probably by far the best shot blocker and maybe the best frontcourt defender in all of college basketball. I think any time you lose a player like that of that caliber that's always a loss. It's a loss for any team.

Donovan should know about having to deal with injuries. Junior forward Will Yeguete is a key part to the success of this current Florida team and he was missing for almost seven complete games. In that span of time, Florida notched all three of their conference losses.

In a game like basketball with limited scholarship numbers, it really changes the focus of your team and maybe on both ends of the court.

"Any time you lose guys in the rotation that are good players I think any team is hit by that. And it's challenging. I think probably with the amount of minutes he was playing prior to his injury you've got to distribute those minutes to different people and there are different things you have to do on both ends of the floor offensively and defensively because he's such a great protector around the basket for them defensively.

Some players have stepped up in Noel's absence and they are probably looking for more.

"Willie Cauley I think has gotten better, he's improved," Donovan said. "He has shot blocking ability, but certainly Nerlens did it at an incredibly special level, as good as anybody has done it in a long, long time. I think their team, I think like our team, we're still going through some this time of year trying to get into continuity and cohesiveness because of our injuries of what we had to deal with guys being out and guys coming back. I'm sure they're doing the same thing on both ends of the floor, trying to learn how to play without him."

Florida (24-5, 14-3) @ Kentucky (20-10, 11-6) (Lexington)
Time: Noon
Television: CBS

Probable Starting Lineups

FLORIDA: G Kenny Boynton (SR, 6-2, 190), G Mike Rosario (SR, 6-3, 183), G Scottie Wilbekin (JR, 6-2, 186), F Erik Murphy (SR, 6-10, 238), C Patric Young (JR, 6-9, 249)

KENTUCKY: G Julius Mays (SR, 6-2, 192), G Ryan Harrow (SO, 6-2, 197), G Archie Goodwin (FR, 6-4, 198), Alex Poythress (FR, 6-7, 239), F Willie Cauley-Stein (FR, 7-0, 244)


Freshman guard Goodwin leads all scorers in the contest with a 13.8 average. Poythress (11.8) and Harrow (10.2) are the only other double digit scorers for the Wildcats. The gators counter with four in double digits led by Rosario and Boynton at (12.6), Murphy (12.3) and Young (10.5). Wilbekin (9.1) is almost there.

Kentucky leads the all-time series, 93-34. The Gators are 14-23 vs. the Wildcats under head coach Billy Donovan.

The Gators are looking for their first win at Rupp Arena since 2007.

In their last meeting, a 69-52 win by Florida, the Gators held the Wildcats to 24 points under their 76.0 point average at the time. Florida also snapped a five game losing streak to the Wildcats with the victory.

Florida seems to be on the upswing lately in free throw percentage albeit they struggle more away from home. Still, the gators look to have the advantage when they do shoot them shooting 69.6% and tied for third in the league while Kentucky shoots 64.5% for 12 in the SEC.

Florida is tops in the league in field goal percentage while Kentucky is right behind them. Likewise Florida is tops in field goal percentage defense while Kentucky is third, that is likely dropping with the departure of Noel.

One advantage Florida does have is defensive rebounds. The Gators are tops in the league while Kentucky sits ninth.

The Gators sit at third in the SEC in turnover margin with a (+3.3) margin while Kentucky is 11th with a (-1.1).

Florida is tops in the league in three-point shots made at 8.5 per game while Kentucky is eighth in the league at 5.8.

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