Kentucky looks to bounce back in Gainesville


Kentucky freshman guard Tyrese Maxey takes the ball to the rim during the game against Florida on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 65-59. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Barkley Truax

No. 6 Kentucky (24-6, 14-3 SEC) was upset by the Tennessee Volunteers 81-73 on senior night in Rupp Arena this past Tuesday. The Wildcats were outscored by 19 points in the second half.

Kentucky has to put that loss behind them now, as they travel to Gainesville this Saturday in the regular season finale in a matchup with the Florida Gators (19-11, 11-6 SEC). Florida is coming off a double-digit win over Georgia led by Keyontae Johnson, who scored 18.

“We got to get back to drawing board, 24 hours is all we got to grieve and after that, we’re back at it. Big one on Saturday against Florida,” Tyrese Maxey said after the Tennessee loss.

Nick Richards’ poor defensive performance against Tennessee’s John Fulkerson and Yves Pons is something that simply won’t work against the Gators. Kerry Blackshear Jr. is one of the toughest, most physical centers in the SEC and would have a field day against that lackluster defense. 

“He’s physical. He’s smart. He ball fakes. He gets you in bad positions,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said of Blackshear. “He creates fouls, throws himself into you if you don’t–if you’re not ready to play, he physically will throw his body at you to catch balls. He’s good. He’s a terrific player. He’s one of the best big men in our league.”

Kentucky defeated Florida 65-59 in their last matchup. The Wildcats’ guard trio gave them the boost they needed to pick up the home win, led by Immanuel Quickley’s 26 points last month. 

Johnson is a key player for the Gators, and has scored at least 18 points in four of the last five games for the Gators, including a 19-point performance against Kentucky inside Rupp Arena Feb. 22. He’s their leading scorer with 14 points per game, has shot over 50 percent from the field and has been their go-to guy this season.

This game may not have implications for Kentucky’s SEC tournament seed, as they already won the regular season championship last Saturday against Auburn. However, it could be the difference between the Wildcats being a three or four seed in the NCAA tournament.

Florida is currently in a three-way tie with Auburn and LSU for second place in the SEC. The four seed in the SEC tournament is on the same side of the bracket as the one seed, Kentucky, which means that if Florida loses on Saturday, they could possibly take on Kentucky in the semi-finals of the tournament. This is a must-win game for both sides.

Tip-off is at 1 p.m. Saturday in Gainesville live on CBS.