When Kentucky and Florida met for the first time on Jan. 9, Kentucky notched arguably its most impressive win of the season with a dominant 76-58 victory over the Gators, who were still trying to find their way without Keyontae Johnson. The win was Kentucky’s third straight to begin conference play and seemed to suggest the Wildcats had turned a corner after an awful start to their season.
That idea turned out to be a farce — Kentucky lost seven of its next eight games — but the Wildcats (8-13, 7-7 SEC) are back on the upswing entering Saturday’s rematch. The Gators (12-6, 8-5) have won six of their last eight, though, and surely would enjoy a bit of redemption for their most-lopsided loss of the year.
As jockeying for SEC Tournament seeding continues, this game bears particular significance. Florida is trying to lock up a double-bye and improve upon its projection as a No. 7 seed for the NCAA Tournament, according to Jerry Palm’s latest Bracketology. The Wildcats, meanwhile, are looking to prove that their latest resurgence is legitimate and that they will be a force to reckon with in the league tournament.
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- When: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET
- Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky
- TV: CBS | Live stream: CBSSports.com, CBS Sports App (Free)
- OTT: CBS Sports App (Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast)
Kentucky: A theoretical physicist could potentially concoct a scenario in which Kentucky makes the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, but that would require the Wildcats to win their final three regular season games, win three games in the SEC Tournament and then lose in the title game to finish 14-14 overall after victories in nine of their last 10 games. But let’s be honest: the Wildcats’ only realistic chance of dancing is to win the conference tournament. Even that would have seemed preposterous just a few weeks ago when they were 5-13 overall. But after three straight wins, this team finally appears to have put its worst struggles in the rearview mirror. The offense looked particularly good in the first half of an impressive 70-55 win at Tennessee last Saturday. Beating the Volunteers was a sure sign of growth considering Kentucky had fallen apart in the second half of a home loss to them just two weeks earlier. The emergence of freshman center Isaiah Jackson has been particularly important. He’s averaged 16.3 points, nine rebounds and two blocks while making 60.9% of his shot attempts during the three-game winning streak.
Florida: It was fair to wonder how the Gators would handle the loss of Johnson, the preseason SEC Player of the Year, after his scary on-court collapse against Florida State on Dec. 12. But Florida has quietly been one of the more consistent teams in the SEC, winning six of its last eight games to establish itself in solid position for one of those SEC Tournament double-byes. The emergence of Michigan transfer Colin Castleton continues to be a welcome revelation after he struggled for minutes in two seasons at Michigan. But Florida will need Castleton to produce more this time than he did in the first game with Kentucky when finished with just six points and three rebounds. The Gators’ leading scorer, Tre Mann, also finished with just seven points in the first game, his lowest scoring output in a game this season.
Game prediction, pick
Poor performances from Mann and Castleton in the same game during the first meeting were an aberration. The Gators have been strong as of late, and Kentucky is due a loss. Prediction: Florida 77, Kentucky 74
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