Across the (By)Line: Florida Gators


Kentucky Wildcats forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) dunks the ball during the UK vs. Mississippi State basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 82-74. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Hunter Shelton

The “Across the (By)Line” series will give Kentucky basketball fans an in-depth look at their opponent for this week — from the mind of the opposing school’s sports editor.

This week: Jesse Richardson, The Alligator, The University of Florida.

What do you make of Florida’s season thus far?

Richardson: So imagine the craziest roller coaster that you’ve ever been on, and times that by 10. At the start of the season, I feel like the Florida fan base was kind of on top of the world. Tyree Appleby hit a buzzer-beater against Ohio State, and then they beat Florida State, who was at the time ranked, by about 13 points. I feel like after that, there was a lot of hope for the season. But after that, everything just kind of went on a downward spiral. A loss to Oklahoma kind of triggered the unforeseen 16-point upset from the winless Texas Southern … that was just embarrassing. I feel like that first stretch of games has really been a pretty solid summary for what the season has been so far.

How important is star big man Colin Castleton down low for UF on Saturday?

Richardson: Castleton is going to be an interesting story. His first game back was on Saturday (Feb. 5) versus Ole Miss; he had some kind of undisclosed left shoulder injury, we were never really told exactly what it was. But he came back and he did pretty well, he scored a team-high 17 points and then got three blocks. For his first game back from some kind of left shoulder injury, he didn’t really play like it, he played like his old self. He was chattering from the sideline and on the floor, and I think that that’s going to be a huge part of this weekend, because I mean even though they were able to get a couple wins without him, I feel like that this offense really plays around him and they really need that presence down low as well.

Where is one area that you see Florida being able to outperform Kentucky?

Richardson: Here’s the thing; Kentucky is very good, I will gladly admit that. They are much better than Florida in a lot of categories. 3-point [shooting], rebounds, offensive rebounds, et cetera. So, the matchup I’m really going to look at is honestly Castleton’s matchup with Tshiebwe. The matchup is probably going to make or break this game. I think that’s what made the game versus Ole miss, was having castleton down low, being able to get those boards. Tshiebwe is a rebound machine, from what I’ve seen. So, I think if Castleton can shut down Tshiebwe, I think it’s going to come down to a shootout.

Is Castleton versus Tshiebwe the most intriguing matchup of the game to you?

Richardson: I think Tshiebwe and Castleton is going to be the heavyweight matchup of the night for sure. Other than that, I think if Florida can find that rhythm from downtown I think that that’s going to be the other key, because Florida has a pick and pop offense which works pretty well, it’s pretty simple, it’s pretty basic, but they always get the open look from three. The thing is, there’s just not exactly a sharpshooter for Florida.

Does Florida need to play a perfect game on Saturday to defeat the Wildcats? What is your score prediction?

Richardson: I don’t think they’re going to have to play a perfect game, I just think that they’ll just have to contain Kentucky’s offense. Florida can win a slugfest, I don’t think they can win a shootout. If it comes down to a shootout, then Kentucky is definitely going to win this game. If I were Mike White [UF head coach], I would try and run the offense through Castleton. If Tshiebwe shuts it down, then obviously you gotta make that adjustment and trust your shooters. If Castleton can penetrate that frontcourt, then it could go to Florida’s favor, but I think that on Saturday it probably will be a slugfest. I think that Kentucky will probably win this game; I think it’ll probably be by at least nine or 12 points. I’ll go 67-58 to the Wildcats.