Gators look to avenge worst loss of season at hands of 'Cats in rematch at Rupp Arena
Rupp Arena will be limited to just 15 percent capacity when the Florida men’s basketball team takes on the Wildcats at 4 p.m. Saturday, but that’s no reason for the Gators to take the Wildcats lightly.
Who: Florida (12-6, 8-5 SEC) at Kentucky (8-13, 7-7)
When: 4 p.m.
In the eyes of coach Mike White, UF shouldn’t be underestimating any opponents —especially after a string of subpar practices that White attributes to a bit of overconfidence that set in following two wins critical to the team’s postseason chances.
“We weren’t very good these last couple days in practice, today specifically. We already went this morning. We’ve got to mature. We’ve got to grow up. We’ve got to be more consistent. And tomorrow’s going to be extremely difficult. We’ve got to be much better tomorrow than we were these last couple days and even better than we were, of course, at Auburn in our last time out,” White said. “You want your guys to feel good about themselves and you want to have momentum. But you don’t want to be complacent and you don’t want to stunt your growth by not having the right approach every day to work.”
Aside from the minor issues in practice and several drop-offs, Florida (12-6, 8-5 SEC) has progressed as the conference slate has continued.
The Gators have improved since hosting the Wildcats (8-13, 7-7 SEC) back on Jan. 9 in the team’s fourth game playing without Keyontae Johnson, a game that ended in an 18-point defeat, UF’s worst loss of the season.
Since then, Florida has altered the offense significantly and seen multiple starters step up in Johnson’s absence, namely junior forward Colin Castleton and sophomore point guard Tre Mann; the latter ranks 12th in the conference in scoring while the former ranks fourth in blocks with 42.
But the 'Cats have improved since then, too. Wildcats forward Isaiah Jackson sits atop the conference leaderboard in swatted shots, while Kentucky itself has won three in a row, including a 15-point win over then-No. 25-ranked Tennessee following close wins over Auburn and Vanderbilt.
And UK didn’t play a midweek game, benefitting with more time to rest and prepare for the Gators.
“First off, if you take a program like Kentucky for granted you’re nuts, you don’t deserve to be between the lines,” White said. "I thought we got off to a really good start in that (game on Jan. 9). Then mid-first half they threw a couple of haymakers and just continued to pound us on the interior, make really good decisions. Their interior passing was terrific, and they just played a good defensive game. We didn’t do a great job of valuing the basketball; we had 16 turnovers. We didn’t move it very effectively. And they’re even better defensively today then they were then. We’re changed offensively, of course. Hopefully we can find some open looks early and settle in on the road.”
The turnovers haven’t improved, however. The Gators turned it over 14 times — in line with their average of 14.4 turnovers per game this season — in the victory against the Tigers, perhaps a sign of how good UF could be if they could cut down on the wasted possessions.
Then there’s the careless fouls that have plagued the Gators at times — UF is ranked in the top-50 in Division I basketball when it comes to fouling with 19.4 fouls per contest. White said careless fouls have held back several players this season from a production standpoint, including sophomore wing Scottie Lewis, who picked up four personal fouls against the Tigers yet still managed to score 16 points off the bench, his highest-scoring performance since that first loss to the Wildcats.
The fouls and turnovers won’t go away completely — they’re a part of the game after all — but facing an ever-dangerous Kentucky team, the Gators will need Lewis and his teammates to keep finding ways to be effective in spite of them.
“Staying out of foul trouble, taking good shots, valuing the basketball, being in the spot defensively. Those things will allow (Lewis) to stay in the game more often," White said. "And you forget — and the last couple times you guys have asked me about him — I have regretted after these opportunities not mentioning that a lot of the times he’s picked up two fouls quickly, then he picks up a third quickly, and then he’s sitting over by us. Some of that has to do with his minutes.
“He’s a guy who plays with that infectious level of energy and he tries to be all over the court, but he has to channel it. We all know that. When he’s complementing some of that with heightened discipline and focus relative to the scouting report, our schemes offensively and defensively, and he’s locked in as much as he was against Auburn, he’s a really effective player. And that’s his ceiling — when he reaches that ceiling consistently, you’ve got a heckuva player. He’s working his way toward that.”
04 Anthony Duruji F 6-7 220 Jr. 5.9 ppg 4.2 rpg
22 Tyree Appleby G 6-1 170 Jr. 10.8 ppg 3.1 rpg
10 Noah Locke G 6-3 203 Jr. 10.8 ppg 2.5 rpg
01 Tre Mann G 6-5 190 So. 14.3 ppg 5.7 rpg
12 Colin Castleton F 6-11 231 Jr. 12.9 ppg 5.9 rpg
23 Isaiah Jackson F 6-10 206 Fr. 8.0 ppg 6.9 rpg
30 Olivier Sarr F 7-0 237 Sr. 10.5 ppg 5.5 rpg
02 Devin Askew G 6-3 198 Fr. 7.4 ppg 2.7 rpg
03 Brandon Boston Jr. G 6-7 185 Fr. 11.9 ppg 4.8 rpg
10 Davion Mintz G 6-3 196 Gr. 10.5 ppg 3.2 rpg
Notes: Three Gators over the past 10 seasons have posted 15 points and five steals in a game, two of which happened this season. Scottie Lewis (16/5) at Auburn on Tuesday and Tre Mann (19/5) in the season opener vs. Army join Michael Frazier II (21/6), who did so at Vanderbilt on Feb. 3, 2015. ... Only four times in series history have Florida and Kentucky split the season series with the visitor taking both contests (1974, 1985, 1989, 1998). ... Tre Mann has increased his scoring by 9.0 points per game this season compared to his freshman campaign, which marks the Gators’ third-largest season-to-season individual scoring increase over the past 25 years, trailing only Joakim Noah (+10.7) and Taurean Green (+9.4) in 2005-06. ... Florida will finish its season at Tennessee on March 7. The game was originally scheduled for Feb. 10 but postponed because of COVID-19 protocols.
— Graham Hall