Gators seeking big finish at Rupp Arena
Published: Friday, March 8, 2013 at 6:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 5:54 a.m.
After cutting the nets earlier this week, players and coaches insist No. 11 Florida still has plenty to prove.
Who: No. 11 Florida Gators (24-5, 13-3 SEC) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (20-10, 11-6 SEC)
Where: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
Gainesville-area TV: CBS
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
“You want to be able to go into the SEC Tournament improving, getting better,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
Florida will get that chance today in its regular-season finale at Kentucky. The Gators haven't won at Rupp Arena since 2007, and a win against the Wildcats would bolster their NCAA Tournament resume. Most bracket analysts project Florida as a No. 2 or No. 3 seed.
Seeding doesn't concern Donovan as much as getting the Gators back on track offensively. Florida showed signs of improvement in the second half of its SEC title-clinching 66-40 win over Vanderbilt. The Gators made six of their last 10 3-point attempts to finish 50 percent (9 of 18) from beyond the arc. Florida also finished with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 13 to 8.
“To go into Rupp and win, you're going to have to play well,” Donovan said. “You're not going to win the game by going in there and not playing well. They're very good at home, not only this year, but the history of their program. It's a challenging, difficult place to play in. You want to take on a road challenge to be able to go in there and play well.”
Kentucky will be coming into the game desperate following a 72-62 loss at Georgia on Thursday night. After the game, Kentucky coach John Calipari shouldered the blame, saying he hasn't coached his team well enough this season. But the Wildcats can still get back on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble with a win against the Gators.
Florida players, meanwhile, wouldn't mind spoiling Kentucky's fading NCAA Tournament hopes.
“We want to finish strong,” Florida junior forward Will Yeguete said. “We already won the SEC, but we still want to go out there and beat them. I don't think we've done that the past couple years, so I think it would be good to go out there and finish strong.”
Florida knocked off Kentucky 69-52 earlier this season in Gainesville in a game that wound up more costly for the Wildcats than the final score.
Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel went down in the second half with a season-ending ACL tear, robbing the Wildcats of the best defensive center in college basketball. Kentucky has turned to 7-foot freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein in Noel's absence, but the loss of Noel slimmed an already thin UK bench.
Kentucky is 3-3 without Noel, with all three losses coming on the road and all three wins coming at home. Donovan said he feels like Kentucky has had time to adjust offensively and defensively to Noel's absence.
“There's different things you have to do on both ends of the floor offensively and defensively, because he's such a great protector around the basket for them defensively,” Donovan said. “Willie Cauley has gotten better, he's improved. He has shot-blocking ability, but, certainly, Nerlens did it at an incredibly special level, as good as anybody has done it in a long, long time.”
On a short turnaround without Noel, Kentucky appears vulnerable. But the Gators have had their own recent road issues. Florida has lost three of its last four road games. The Gators failed to hold a 13-point second-half lead at Missouri and lost by six at Tennessee after going just 1 of 10 from 3-point range in the second half.
“Sometimes on the road you've got to give the opponent some credit,” Donovan said. “You go into Tennessee with six players and (we) gave ourselves a chance to win. We go into Missouri with seven guys and we're right there with an opportunity to win the game. That's what you want. I'd be a lot more concerned or alarmed if we're going in and not having a chance to compete or play in the game.”
From an RPI standpoint, Florida's best road win has come against Texas A&M (84 according to the NCAA's official RPI). The Gators have posted three road wins against RPI Top-100 teams (Texas A&M 84, Florida State 88, LSU 91), but no wins against RPI Top-50 teams.
A win against Kentucky (51 RPI) would be Florida's most impressive on the road this season. Overall, the Gators are 7-5 on the road, including a loss to Kansas State in Kansas City that was ruled a road game because Kansas State controlled distribution of tickets.
“We've competed very, very well on the road,” Donovan said. “If you look nationally, give me one team that's just totally dominated on the road. Nobody has. You want to be in a position that you have a chance to win and you're in the game."
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Sr. 12.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg
G Mike Rosario 6-3 Sr. 12.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Jr. 9.1 ppg, 5.2 apg
F Erik Murphy 6-10 Sr. 12.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Jr. 10.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg
KENTUCKY PROBABLE STARTERS
G Julius Mays 6-2 Sr. 9.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg
G Ryan Harrow 6-2 So. 10.2 ppg, 3.0 apg
G Archie Goodwin 6-4 Fr. 14.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg
F Alex Poythress 6-7 Fr. 11.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg
C Willie Cauley-Stein 7-0 Fr. 8.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg
Notes: Florida (7-5 on the road this season) will be looking to snap a two-game road losing streak. … Florida clinched its fourth outright SEC regular-season title in school history and third under coach Billy Donovan with a 66-40 win over Vanderbilt on Wednesday. … The Gators haven't won at Rupp Arena since a 64-61 win in 2007. Overall, Donovan is 3-13 at Rupp Arena during his UF tenure. … The Gators rank third in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 53 points per game. The Gators have held 12 opponents under 50 points and 21 opponents under 60 points. … Florida has needed defense of late, because offensively, the Gators have averaged just 63.8 points over their last five games. … Florida junior center Patric Young is averaging 13 points and five rebounds over his last four games. … Kentucky is 15-2 at Rupp Arena this season, with losses to Baylor and Texas A&M. … Kentucky coach John Calipari is 7-2 against Billy Donovan. … Kyle Wiltjer is averaging 10.8 ppg off the bench for Kentucky, but has struggled shooting of late. Overall, though, Wiltjer is still shooting 38.2 percent from 3-point range.
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