NCAA hopes at stake? Florida Gators men's basketball wraps up regular season vs. Kentucky

Graham Hall
Gator Sports
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The regular season comes to a close for the Florida men’s basketball team with Saturday’s 2 p.m. contest between UF and the No. 6-ranked Kentucky Wildcats, one of five SEC powers all but guaranteed to make the upcoming NCAA Tournament. 

As for UF’s tournament hopes, the Gators (19-11, 9-8 SEC) took steps in improving their resume over the last week, securing consecutive road victories at Georgia and Vanderbilt. 

Phlandrous Fleming Jr., who transferred to Florida from Charleston Southern prior to the season, was the star of the show in both rallies, leading his teammates to praise his heroics. 

“He saved our season last game,” senior guard Tyree Appleby said. “I think he’s playing amazing right now.” 

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Phlandrous Fleming on hot streak

The Athens, Georgia, native followed up his 27-point performance against the Bulldogs by hitting a game-winning three-pointer from the corner to give the Gators the come-from-behind win over the Commodores. 

Fleming’s two-game stretch was no fluke, nor was it a result of a super-sized support system — he’s simply operating at a far more efficient and consistent level, said UF coach Mike White. 

“He’s definitely playing the best basketball of his career, without question,” White said. “His confidence-level is at an all-time high. I think he feels good about the way he’s playing. He’s staying on the court more because he’s become more dependable defensively, especially off the ball. He’s become arguably our best defender late in the year. Ball security decisions, shot-selection, they’ve all improved.” 

Gators guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (24) celebrates late in the second half of a win against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Memorial Gymnasium.

Prior to tip-off, Fleming and Appleby will be two of the seven Gators honored during the program’s Senior Day festivities. Florida will also recognize guards Brandon McKissic and Myreon Jones, in addition to forwards Colin Castleton, Anthony Duruji and Keyontae Johnson, at midcourt. 

Duruji, who has missed UF’s previous two contests, is questionable to return to action, putting rebounding responsibilities on the shoulders of Castleton, CJ Felder and UF’s backcourt. 

As they prepare to face the SEC’s leading rebounder in Oscar Tshiebwe, the Gators – the league’s worst defensive rebounding team — are calling on more from the guards when it comes to chasing errant balls and shots coming off of the rim. 

“Our guards have got to do a better job rebounding. It’s got to be more important to us overall,” White said. “We’re last in the league in defensive rebounding percentage, and nationally it’s not very pretty either. So we’ve got to finish strong in that category, and our guys know it. They’re open to it, they’re not defiant about it.”

In Florida’s 21-point loss in Lexington on Feb. 12, Tshiebwe had 19 rebounds and UK (24-6, 13-4) outrebounded the Gators, 41-25, though all six of the Wildcats’ losses thus far have come away from Rupp Arena.

After being limited to just seven minutes in that matchup as a result of a re-aggravated thigh bruise, Appleby — like Fleming — is back to playing some of his most efficient basketball, and he’s eager to compete against Kentucky’s talented backcourt of TyTy Washington, Sahvir Wheeler and Kellan Grady. 

For as much as Appleby may believe Fleming saved UF’s postseason hopes, he knows there’s work still to be done. 

“I feel like I’m back to 100 percent. When that happened, I had a thigh bruise that was really deep, so I couldn’t move and get lateral how I wanted to,” Appleby said Friday. “I feel like I’m ready to play, and I’m ready to do whatever I can to help my team get the win tomorrow.”

Florida’s projected starters

CJ Felder, F, 6-7 231 Jr., 3.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg

Tyree Appleby, G, 6-1 163, Sr., 11.4 ppg, 2.0 rpg

Myreon Jones, G, 6-3 175, Sr., 9.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg

Colin Castleton, F, 6-11 240, Sr., 16.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg

Phlandrous Fleming Jr., G, 6-5  205 Gr., 10.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg

Kentucky's projected starters

Keion Brooks Jr., F, 6-7 210 Jr., 11.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg

Oscar Tshiebwe, F, 6-9 255 Jr., 16.9 ppg, 15.3 rpg

Sahvir Wheeler, G, 5-9 180 Jr., 10.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg

Davion Mintz, G, 6-3 195 Gr., 8.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg

Kellan Grady, G, 6-5 205 Gr, 11.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg

Notes: Mike White and John Calipari, along with Tennessee's Rick Barnes and Auburn's Bruce Pearl, are the four active SEC coaches whose winning percentage in conference games rates in the SEC’s top-20 all-time. Calipari sits in third (.770), Barnes 16th (.597), White 18th (.585) and Pearl 19th (.577). ... Fleming Jr. stuffed the stat sheet at Vandy with 16 points, six assists, four rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots. He’s the first Gator since 1996 to reach all those numbers in a single SEC game and the third to do so in any game, joined by Joakim Noah (3/16/06 vs. South Alabama) and Matt Walsh (11/21/02 vs. Eastern Illinois). ... Castleton has been productive since his Feb. 5 return to the lineup after missing six games with a shoulder injury, averaging 17.5 points and 9.0 rebounds in the eight games since. He posted 19 points and eight rebounds in the win vs. Auburn and went for a career-high 29 vs. Arkansas. Castleton also has 114 career blocked shots at UF, one away from joining the Gators’ career top 10 (Alex Tyus, 115).

SATURDAY'S GAME

Who: Kentucky at Florida. 

When:2 p.m. 

Where: Exactech Arena. 

TV: CBS

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