After clinching the Southeastern Conference regular season title and the top seed in the conference tournament for the second time in three years, the Florida Gator men’s basketball team heads to Lexington to face off against the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday in the regular season finale.
The Gators sewed the regular season conference title up on Senior Night at the O’Connell Center, utilizing strong defense to shut down Vanderbilt and notch a program record tying 14th conference win 66-40. For seniors Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy, Wednesday’s game marked the 100th victorious effort for the class of 2013.
Wednesday’s game appears flawless in the box score and was highlighted by conference title celebrations, but the Gators are 3-2 in their last five games and head coach Billy Donovan says the team is still striving to improve like they have all year long.
Lockdown defense was pivotal to Florida’s success once again. Vanderbilt became the fourth team held to 40 points or fewer this season by the Gators, who have held 12 to under 50 points and 21 below 60. UF eliminated the Commodores long range shooting from the game plan, holding the opponent to 4-24 outside the arc. UF ranks third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing an average of 53 points per game and touting an NCAA leading +19.6 scoring margin.
Florida utilizes defensive efforts to pull away from opponents with a balanced offense. Four players average double figures, led by seniors Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario, who both average 12.6 points per game. Erik Murphy and Patric Young have also reached the double digit plateau on an offense that leads the SEC in field goal percentage (.488), 3 pointers made per game (8.5), and assists (15.4). Factoring in guard Scottie Wilbekin’s 9.1 points per game, the starting five has a scoring differential of 3.5, with the top three scorers within 0.3 of each other.
Forward Will Yeguete is back in the mix with increased playing time after arthroscopic knee surgery, scoring his first points since February against Vanderbilt. Yeguete says the recovery process requires him to be patient and improve slowly.
The Wildcats enter the game winless in the month of March, losing two straight at Arkansas and Georgia. UK has dropped four of seven contests dating back to February 12 against Florida, when the Wildcats lost stalwart freshman forward Nerlens Noel to season ending injury.
First year guard Archie Goodwin leads the team in scoring with 14 points per game, scoring 20 Thursday versus Georgia on Thursday, the fifth time he has scored 20 points or more this season. The Wildcats rank 14th in the country in field goal percentage, shooting .481. Although UK has yet to adequately replace Noel in the paint, the team still ranks in the top 30 in the NCAA in rebounding (38.4) and points per game (74.3).
Billy Donovan says it’s very difficult for Kentucky to replace and adjust to losing a top flight player like Noel.
Struggles defensively have been amplified in Noel’s absence. The team allows 64.7 points per game and has held only one opponent to under 70 in a victory in the past month, a span of seven games. Forward Willie Cauley-Stein leads active Kentucky players in rebounding with 6.1 per game and an average of 2.1 blocks per game.
Kentucky sports one of the toughest environments in all of college basketball, defending home court with a record of 15-2 in the 2012-2013 campaign. The Gators have not emerged from rowdy Rupp Arena with a win since 2007, and are 8-47 all time in front of the sea of blue 23,000 strong.
Coverage of Saturday’s game begins at 11:25 on Country 103-7 The Gator and continues through tipoff at noon.