Preview: Kentucky at Florida

A scouting report of Tuesday's showdown at Gainesville...

LEXINGTON, Ky. --- A scouting report of Tuesday's Kentucky-Florida game at the O'Connell Center (9 p.m. ET, ESPN)


No. 10 Kentucky (13-5, 3-3 SEC). Last game: Lost to Alabama 64-61.

No. 5 Florida (15-3, 4-2 SEC). Last game: Lost at Arkansas 94-92, OT.

Offense: Kentucky (80.4 ppg, 47 percent FG, 31 percent 3PFG, 65 percent FT); Florida (86.7 ppg, 48 percent FG, 33 percent 3PFG, 71 percent FT)

Defense: Kentucky (66.8 ppg, 39 percent FG, 30 percent 3PFG); Florida (68.1 ppg, 40 percent FG, 33 percent 3PFG).

Coaches: Kentucky (Orlando "Tubby" Smith, 5th season, 123-38); Alabama (Billy Donovan, 6th season, 117-59).

Series: The Wildcats lead 76-24 overall and 27-16 in Gainesville. The teams split last year's two games and are an even 4-4 during the last eight matchups.

Last meeting: The Gators topped the Cats 94-86 on March 4, 2001, in Gainesville.


UK -- Cliff Hawkins (6-1, 185, Soph., Dumphries, Va.) may wind up as the only regular starter to be in the lineup for the Cats as Tubby Smith announced wholesale changes may be in store following the Cats' 64-61 loss to Alabama. He figures to be a key figure in the matchup as much of the responsibility for handling the Gators' full-court pressure will rest on his shoulders. He must push the ball up the floor quickly, properly assess the numbers, and distribute to the right man in transition. Hawkins (7.7 ppg, 4.4 apg) figures to get many more opportunities to create in an uptempo game than he's had of late.  Defensively, he'll likely draw Justin Hamilton and Brett Nelson at times. Staying out of foul trouble will be crucial.

UF -- Justin Hamilton (6-3, 207, Jr., Sarasota, Fla) is back with the Gators following a serious knee injury last season. He's not quite as explosive as he was prior to the setback, but still an experienced, physical player. His 2.71 assist-to-turnover ratio is second in the league. Hamilton (8.8 ppg, 3.6 apg) will have a height and weight advantage when matched up against Hawkins, and Florida may attempt to post him up at times. He's shooting only 27 percent from 3-point range, making him a potential man to leave for double-down help. He had 14 points, five rebounds and five steals in the previous game against Arkansas.


UK -- Gerald Fitch (6-3, 185, Soph., Macon, Ga.) is the normal starter, but may defer to Rashaad Carruth (6-3, 195, Fr., College Park, Ga.) due to being late for a team meeting on Sunday. Under Smith's team rules, Fitch would not start against the Gators. That would mean the Cats exchange --- at least temporarily --- their best on-ball defender for their best perimeter shooter. Fitch (8.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is second on the team with 25 steals and usually draws the opponent's best backcourt scorer. Carruth (6.6 ppg) leads the team in 3-point percentage at 44 percent, and should get plenty of open looks against Florida in an up-and-down game, but has been cited for inconsistent defense at times early in his career. Watch closely to see how he reacts to a possible starting assignment and playing in front of the hostile Florida crowd.

UF -- Brett Nelson (6-4, 182, Jr., St. Albans, W.Va.) rates among the most dangerous players in the SEC and the nation. He's averaging 16.1 points per game, but has seen his 3-point percentage (.358) drop off this season. Containing him will be a priority for the Cats, and Fitch would likely draw the main defensive assignment. Occasionally, Nelson tries to do too much, and his desire to make a fancy play can lead to turnovers. He hit six treys and scored 23 points against Arkansas.


UK -- Chuck Hayes (6-7, 237, Fr., Modesto, Calif.) is expected to make his first career start in the place of struggling Keith Bogans. Hayes (4.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg) is one of the Cats' most productive players as he's averaged only 10.6 minutes per game. Smith likes his aggressive mindset and willingness to crash both the offensive and defensive boards. He's also versatile enough to play either the 3, 4 or 5 positions. Offensively, he can post up inside or step out and hit the 3-pointer, drawing early comparisons to former UK All-American Jamal Mashburn. Hayes had six points and five rebounds in 16 minutes against Alabama. He'll be seeking his first double-figure scoring game as a Cat.

UF -- Orien Greene (6-4, 200, Soph., Gainesville, Fla) would prove to be a tricky matchup for either Hayes or Erik Daniels, who figures to start at the 4. The two players are largely interchangeable, but both would be at a quickness disadvantage with Greene (5.1 ppg, 34 percent 3PFG). Greene recorded 13 points and five boards against the Razorbacks.


UK -- Erik Daniels (6-7, 205, Soph., Cincinnati.) is also on the verge of his first collegiate start, surprisingly in the place of All-American Tayshaun Prince. Daniels (4.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg) has been similar to Hayes, production-wise, and represents one of UK's best passers. Paired with Hayes and Marquis Estill, his high-low and interior passing could prove to be a big key against the Gators. He turned in eight points and three rebounds in just 17 minutes against Alabama, coming on the heels of a four-pount, eight-rebound, four-assist performance at Auburn.

UF -- Matt Bonner (6-10, 237, Jr., Concord, N.H.) has been the Gators' premier player at times this season. He averages 15.9 points and 7.3 rebounds, both among the SEC leaders. Similar to former UK star Scott Padgett, his versatility allows him to shoot the 3 or bang inside for points. He's a dynamite free throw shooter at 83 percent, good for fourth in the league. Keeping him off the offensive glass will be a major key for the Cats. He had 19 boards in two games against UK last year. Bonner had 13 points and seven boards at Arkansas.


UK -- Marquis Estill (6-9, 240, Jr., Richmond, Ky.) steps back into the starting role in the pivot for Jules Camara, who has become ineffective in recent weeks. Estill is averaging an impressive 10.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in just 16 minutes per game. He leads the team in field goal percentage (.670) and is one of the Cats' top free throw (.771) shooters.  He faces a huge task, defensively, against Udonis Haslem. If Estill gets in early foul trouble, the Cats could be in for a long night in Gainesville.

UF -- Udonis Haslem (6-9, 246, Sr., Miami) is another Gator in line for major postseason accolades. On a team noted for perimeter shooting, he's averaging a team-high 16.3 points in the post. His 9.4 rebounding average leads the SEC by far. Look for the Cats to use double-teams on him, opening passing lanes to the perimeter. If Haslem can identify the open man, and the Gators knock down the 3s, they'll likely be in line for a victory. His strength poses a problem for any potential UK defender, but he has shown a tendency to get in foul trouble himself.  Look for the Cats to go inside early and attempt to get the Florida big man out of the game. Haslem had 19 points and 13 rebounds against Arkansas. He went to the foul line a whopping 17 times.


UK -- This is an area the Cats usually hold a decisive edge, but it gets even larger if Fitch, Bogans (12.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Prince (16.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) become reserves. Camara, the SEC's second-leading shot-blocker, may play a big role if the game takes on an up-tempo pace.

UF -- The Gators are also strong in this department as nine players average at least 11 minutes per game. No Florida player nets more than 30 minutes in Donovan's pressing style.  Watch for McDonald's High School All-American Dan Lee (8.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) to play a big role off the bench with his athletic, 6-7 frame. James White (7.7 ppg, 34 percent 3PFG) and LaDarius Halton (5.6 ppg, 36 percent 3PFG) are athletic threats in the backcourt.

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