Lexington, KY (Sports Network) - With the SEC championship already firmly in hand, the 11th-ranked Florida Gators close out the regular season on Saturday afternoon, taking on the defending national champion Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena.
Florida clinched the regular-season crown with a 66-40 blasting of Vanderbilt on Wednesday, the fifth title under Billy Donovan's watchful eye. The victory pushed the Gators to 24-5 overall, with a 14-3 league ledger and was the sixth win in the last eight games overall.
John Calipari's Wildcats have won 20 games this season, but it is a far cry from the squad that ran roughshod over the competition a year ago and captured the national title. This youthful squad has faced growing pains and adversity along the way, but is still a steady 20-10 on the season, with an 11-6 mark in SEC play. Kentucky has dropped two straight games after Thursday's 72-62 road loss at Georgia and is looking to head into the SEC Tournament on a high note.
Kentucky holds a 93-34 advantage all-time against Florida and is a stellar 13-3 against the Gators at home in Donovonn's reign. Florida hasn't posted a win at Rupp Arena since 2007.
One of the stingiest defensive squads in the country, Florida was at it again against the Commodores, holding their fourth opponent this season to 40 points or less. The Gators used a 19-3 in the second half to break the game open and cruise to the conference crown. Kenny Boynton led the way offensively with 15 points. Patric Young was right behind with 14, while Erik Murphy chipped in with 10. UF converted 48.9 percent of its shots in the game, bolstered by a 50-percent clip from behind the arc (9-of-18).
The Gators have been efficient at both ends of the floor this season and as a result, lead the nation in scoring margin at +19.6 The team ranks third nationally in scoring defense (53.0 ppg), holding foes to just 37.3 percent shooting. At the other end, UF is delivering on 48.8 percent from the field and putting up 72.5 ppg. Four of the five starters are averaging double figures, led by Boynton and Mike Rosario, who are averaging 12.6 ppg apiece. Murphy (12.3 ppg) and Young (10.5 ppg) provide frontcourt balance. Scottie Wilbekin rounds out the starting five as both a scorer (9.1 ppg) and deft distributor (5.2 apg).
Four Wildcats notched double figures against the Bulldogs on Thursday, but it still wasn't enough, as Kentucky dropped a double-digit decision to Georgia on the road. Archie Goodwin led the way in defeat with 20 points. Kyle Wiltjer added 12 points off the bench, while Ryan Harrow and Willie Cauley-Stein checked in with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Caluey-Stein completed a double-double with 11 rebounds.
There is certainly no denying that Kentucky isn't the same without freshman phenom Nerlens Noel in the lineup. Kentucky's anchor down low, the 6-foot-10 Noel (10.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 4.4 bpg) gave the team a real presence in the paint. Offensively, the team seems to have sufficient depth to overcome the loss, as Goodwin (14.0 ppg) leads four double-digit threats outside of Noel. Alex Polythress is next in line at 11.7 ppg, while Wiltjer and Harrow net 10.8 and 10.2 ppg, respectively. Defensively however, is another story, although Cauley-Stein 8.5 ppg, 2.1 bpg) has stepped up with increased action.