GAME DAY BREAKDOWN: Kentucky Vs. Florida

Here's a breakdown of Sunday's Southeastern Conference championship game between the Florida Gators and the Kentucky Wildcats. The Gators will be gunning for their first ever SEC tournament championship while Kentucky will try to add a twenty-sixth notch on its belt.

WHAT'S UP FRONT: David Lee is playing like a tournament MVP just waiting for the coronation. In Florida's two games he has scored 32 points, pulled down 16 rebounds, handed out seven assists and contributed three steals while shooting 13-24 from the field and 6-7 from the foul line. He's put the ball on the floor and when the defense has cut him off, he's found open shooters on the perimeter. When he's had openings, he's taken it to the rack. He's even hit jump shots. He's played smart on defense and he's turned in big minutes. He'll be going against Chuck Hayes once again, the same Chuck Hayes he outplayed last Saturday in Gainesville. Hayes is 6-6, 245 with a low center of gravity. Lee has the ability to beat him on the dribble and get him in foul trouble. What Lee has to avoid is the cheap foul against Hayes who spreads his body out low and wide in the blocks, making himself a very inviting target for entry passes from the wing. Al Horford, who's been able to play stout defense inside during the tournament, doesn't have much in the way of numbers, but his rebounding and defense has allowed Lee the freedom to play a complete game. He'll be matched up against Kentucky's Randolph Morris, who scored 11 points in Friday's game against Tennessee and only four against LSU. Morris seems to need a good start to be effective so if Horford can deny him the ball early or get him into foul trouble, there is a good chance he won't respond well. Horford is the fifth option in Florida's offense, so any points he will give the Gators will be a plus. His job Sunday will be defend, play good defense and stay out of foul trouble like he did last week against the Wildcats in Gainesville when he blocked four shots.


ON THE PERIMETER: Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh have come up big in both of Florida's wins, but they've had unexpected help on the offensive end from Corey Brewer. Brewer came into the SEC tournament averaging just under seven points per game, but he scored a season high 17 against Mississippi State and he added another 10 against Alabama. If Brewer can give the Gators anything close to that kind of production Sunday, Florida should win. Roberson has shown a willingness to put the ball on the floor and create shots which has opened up shooting lanes for Walsh who is 8-18 from behind the arc in the two games. Roberson lit up Kentucky last week, schooling the Wildcats top freshman defender, Rajon Rondo, by putting the ball on the floor to go to the rack or to drive Rondo off to create space for his jump shot. Walsh has shot well behind the arc and he's kept turnovers to a minimum while contributing in all phases of the game. He has to have a good all-around game for Florida to succeed. Brewer has never been known for his outside shooting, but he's delivered from the outside which has opened him up to put the ball on the floor and go to the hoop. Rondo isn't much of an offensive threat. He gets most of his points off his defense and in transition, so if Roberson and his backup point guard Taurean Green protect the ball that should negate Rondo offensively. Patrick Sparks is an on again, off again perimeter shooter who can get flustered. This is the one player in the league that Walsh can outquick at both ends of the floor. The key for Kentucky will be if Kelenna Azubuike can spring free for shots against Brewer. Brewer defended him very well last week and if the Spiderman can stay out of foul trouble, Florida should do very well.


BENCH: This is where Kentucky has the ability to beat people. The Wildcats can beat you off the bench with size in 7-0 Lukasz Obrzut and 7-4 Shagari Alleyne. They can beat you with scorers in Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley, and they can beat you with the all around games of Ravi Moss, Bobby Perry and Sheray Thomas. Kentucky's bench is long and deep, allowing the Wildcats to adapt their game to the style of play. If the zebras dictate an up and down game, Kentucky has the quickness off the bench to play that way. If it's halfcourt, they can go big and beat people that way. Florida's key players off the bench are 6-10 Adrian Moss, 6-8 Chris Richard, and guards Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey. Moss can still give only limited miniutes, but he provides a tough, physical presence and can be effective defensively in the post. Richard is frighteningly inconsistent, but he's due for a good all-around game, so this could be his day to come up big. Green's job is to spell Roberson at the point and avoid getting his pocket picked by Rondo. Humphrey has rediscovered his shooting touch, so he has to be able to look for his shot and take it when he's open. Florida has 6-11 Joakim Noah and Cornelius Ingram on the bench, but last week against Kentucky, Coach Billy Donovan showed a reluctance to use the two freshmen. In games where it becomes grind it out, possession by possession basketball Noah can be a liability due to a lack of physical strength. Ingram plays too reluctantly at the offensive end.

ADVANTAGE: Kentucky.

COACHING: Much is made of Tubby Smith's ability to adapt and improvise during games. It is a well deserved reputation. He's one of the best coaches in the country at clock management and taking care of all the little things that add up big at the end of the game. For years, the knock on Billy Donovan has been his game day coaching, but in the past ten games he's shown he has the kind of skills that make him one of the two or three best coaches in the SEC. What may make Smith look like the better coach on this day may be having a longer bench, but if Billy D can find combinations that work off the bench and he's able to steal some minutes of rest for his starters, he could be the one who looks like a genius when the game's over.


FINAL ANALYSIS: Florida is playing like a team on a mission. The Gators have won two games in the tournament in contrasting styles. Mississippi State wanted to run it up and down the court, so the Gators responded with an 80-point effort. Once Alabama changed its defensive strategy Saturday the game with Florida became a grind it out halfcourt affair and the Gators showed they are more than capable of playing that style too. Expect another halfcourt, defensive game. That normally would favor Kentucky, but the way the Gators are playing, it should be no surprise if Florida comes up big. For the Gators to win, Brewer has to play lock down on Azubuike, Horford has to stay out of foul trouble and Lee has to be able to operate in the paint. Walsh and Roberson have to avoid shooting meltdowns. Anything close to 45 percent for the two of them combined should spell a Florida win. For Kentucky to win Morris has to get off to a good start and the Wildcats have to find a way to get Azubuike and one other perimeter player into the game early and often. Florida has to force Kentucky to go deep into the bench out of necessity and not by choice.

PREDICTION: After forty years of the SEC Tournament, there is no more wait until next year for Florida. It would only be fitting that it would come against Kentucky, the SEC's most dominant program since the whale that swallowed Jonah was a guppy.

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