Florida preparing for Kentucky’s size

The biggest weakness for the Gators could be exploited when they host Kentucky on Saturday night.

Florida has no true post presence. For the last four seasons, the Gators have been able to throw the ball into the post and let Patric Young or other players to score with their backs to the basket. Now that he’s gone, there’s no one on the team to do that.

The Gators have struggled to score from around the rim this season with only Jon Horford and Chris Walker as true big men near the basket. Horford hasn’t been able to score, and Walker has struggled to get any offensive game going.

It will be even harder against Kentucky on Saturday (9 p.m., TV: ESPN).

The Wildcats start 7-0 Willie Cauley-Stein and 6-11 Karl-Anthony Towns. Cauley- Stein and Towns have combined for 87 blocked shots this season, 14 more than the entire Florida roster. Kentucky is also third in rebounding in the Southeastern Conference while the Gators are 10th.

“I think for us it’s always a concern, the rebounding, with some of the lack of size up front,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “For the most part, we haven’t had, I wouldn’t say a sizeable rebounding margin, but we’ve been in the positives there, by 2 or 3 rebounds per game. We’ve been able to hold our own. I think coming into the year that was a major concern.

“Playing Kentucky on Saturday, they are going to have clearly a lot more size than Vanderbilt has (who outrebounded Florida by 16 on Tuesday), so that’s certainly got to be an area of focus for us.”

The size and length has turned Kentucky into one of the best defensive teams in the country, second in the nation allowing just 51 points per game. Compare that to Florida’s 66 points per game, ranking 210th in the country, and the question for Saturday is whether or not Florida can score enough points to win.

The Gators need shooters to get hot from behind the three-point line and carry them, even though Kentucky is allowing opponents to shoot 27.2 percent from long range, the sixth best in the country. Florida needs a big performance from Michael Frazier, who broke out with a 4-6 performance from three-point range on Tuesday. Even if a big performance happens, the most complete team in the country will challenge the Gators.

“They’re a terrific team,” Donovan said. “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. You look at the Harrisons, Ulis, Booker [and they] have provided some really good perimeter shooting for them. And obviously, they have a tremendous low-post presence. They’re a terrific team and have been No. 1 in the country all year long and have certainly played that way.

“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 won both regular season games against Kentucky last season and then beat the Wildcats again in the SEC Tournament. Since then, Florida lost four seniors that carried the program to the Final Four and Kentucky brought in a loaded recruiting class, making the talent gap between the two programs grow.

“I think there’s a huge discrepancy,” Donovan said. “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.”


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