Gators are looking for 18-0 while the Wildcats need respect
Billy Donovan doesn’t want his team to get too caught up in the past. Meanwhile, John Calipari wants his team to spend plenty of time thinking about the past.
As Florida chases perfection in the SEC, Donovan doesn’t want his team to dwell on the record — what he says is simply a reflection of what’s already been done.
“Up to this point we’ve done a good job, but you don’t want to lose your identity as a team,” Donovan said. “You don’t want to get enamored with a record.”
At the same time, Calipari wants his team to try to rediscover what it had in mid-February. At that point, his team defeated Missouri, Ole Miss twice and played one of their best games of the season in a loss to Florida.
At that time, Calipari’s team held its head high. Losing to Arkansas and South Carolina changed that.
“How do we get our defensive confidence, defensive confidence,” Calipari said. “We just had it 10 days ago. How did that change? What did we do different?”
Whatever the answer to that question, Kentucky needs to find it before the finale in Gainesville.
What’s on the line for Kentucky:
Respectability. The Wildcats have long since lost their chance at the SEC title, and it may take more than a win in Gainesville to drastically improve their seed in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Kentucky needs to show some signs of life. The Wildcats last three weeks have not been pretty: An overtime win over LSU, an overtime loss to Arkansas and an embarrassing defeat against South Carolina in which John Calipari was ejected. Will the Wildcats show any signs they can salvage this year as they enter the postseason?
What’s on the line for Florida:
The 18-0 milestone. The Gators could clinch the SEC regular season title by six games, and a No. 1 seed may be a given. What’s on the line for Florida is the first 18-0 conference record in SEC history. Granted, the SEC has had an 18-game season for only two seasons. But this would be the first undefeated SEC season in school history and only the second in the league since 2002-03.
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Record: 22-8, 12-5 SEC
Record: 28-2, 17-0 SEC
Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Florida 72-58
Braden Gall: Florida 70-60
Mitch Light: Florida 68-54
It’s hard to remember the time early this season when the Gators’ roster was in flux. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin was suspended to start the season. So was Dorian Finney-Smith. Backup point guard Kasey Hill was hurt at times. Now, the Gators are as balanced as ever with Michael Frazier II, Dorian Finney-Smith, Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young and Casey Prather taking their turns leading Florida in scoring in the last six games. Meanwhile, Florida has held opponents to fewer than one point for possession in the last three games.
Pivotal player: Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
If Kentucky is going to have any chance to upset Florida, the Wildcats are going to have to crack the Florida defensive pressure. The Gators hold opponents to a 0.71 assist-to-turnover ratio, second to Arkansas in the SEC. Point guard has been an issue all season for Kentucky with Harrison, who averages 1.4 assists per turnover.
Biggest question: Can Kentucky find its shot?
It’s easy for opponents to gang up on Julius Randle when Kentucky can’t make a shot — or takes bad ones — from outside. The Wildcats are shooting 34.4 percent from the floor in the last three games and 15 of 65 from 3-point range. The slump has been team wide with James Young, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and Alex Poythress all struggling from the field.