No. 18 Kentucky looks to bounce back against Florida
No. 18 Kentucky will be looking to get back on track Saturday night when the Wildcats host longtime rival Florida at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.
The Wildcats (14-4, 4-2 SEC) will be coming off a disastrous 76-68 loss at South Carolina, blowing a 14-point lead they had built midway through the second half.
"We gotta get out mentality right, our approach to this right," Kentucky coach John Calpari said Friday. "You gotta have fun playing and coaching. When you're not having fun, you gotta look back and say, 'We must not be sharing the ball. We must not be playing with energy, spirit. We're being defensive when you're being coached.'
"All of the stuff that comes with 'OK, I'm not having fun.' Well, let's have a ball playing and see what it does. Let's go dive on the floor, let's take charges, let's make the extra pass, let's talk, let's high five."
The Gators (13-5, 5-1) will be looking to hold onto a tie for first place in the Southeastern Conference. The game is the marquee matchup as part of ESPN's College Gameday.
"They're a good team, they get after it, they play hard," Calipari said. "They space the court. They'll go at somebody they think they can beat on the bounce."
Florida presents two major problems for Calipari and Kentucky. The Gators lead the SEC in 3-pointers made per game (9.8) and 3-point field goal percentage (39.7). The Gators have four games with 15 or more made 3-pointers.
"They'll come in here and shoot 30 3s," Calipari said. "And if they're making 15, 20, then guess what? Who's next? It'll be a hard game. We know they will do it."
Additionally, Florida boasts three of the SEC's top four free-throw shooters with Egor Koulechov's 94.1 percent being tops in the league.
Florida's leading scorer is Jalen Hudson at 16.5 points per game. Koulechov, a 6-foot-5 grad student, is next at 15.1. He is followed by senior guard Chris Chiozza at 12.3 and junior guard KeVaughn Allen at 11.3.
Allen had a season-high 28 points, hitting 6 of 7 shots from 3-point range, in Florida's 88-73 win over Arkansas.
"I've been listening," Allen said on the Florida website. "They've been telling me forever to shoot, and even if I miss to keep shooting it."
"We've been trying to get him to shoot it, to be more aggressive," said Hudson, who added 21 points."We try to get him to do it even in practice."
Gators coach Mike White hopes it is a sign if things to come.
"I hope (Allen) stays aggressive," White said. "He hit a couple hard ones that, for most people, aren't great shots. But he's a tough-shot maker. I like to see him like that, and his teammates like to see him like."
For Kentucky, it's not who is playing, but who is not.
Starting freshman point guard Quade Green has missed the last two games with a lower back injury. Calipari said Friday he will be a game-day decision.
"One more perimeter shooter. One more guy that can make baskets," Calipari said. "He leads, he talks. He's one of the most talkative guys so it's affected us."
Kentucky is also hoping to get a second look at freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt. The talented recruit hurt his foot in preseason and did not play until Tuesday, when he logged 14 minutes in the loss at South Carolina. Vanderbilt had six points, five rebounds, three assists and two turnovers.
"He was in 30 possessions. They scored .8 times per possession, under a point per possession," Calipari said. "When he was out, it was 1.2 points per possession. That's a big number. Just that one change. Again, toughness, being active. He went in and competed. I was happy for him."
Forward Kevin Knox leads Kentucky at 14.6 points per game. Next comes guard Hamidou Diallo at 13.3, guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 12.0, forward PJ Washington, 10.9, and Green, 10.7. All five players are freshmen.
Updated January 19, 2018