Coming off of their third consecutive loss, the Florida Gators basketball team (17-12, 8-8 SEC) are heading back to Gainesville, Florida for their last home game of the season to face the no. 16 Kentucky Wildcats (21-8, 11-5 SEC) on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
In its recent tailspin, the Gators have been dismissed from most NCAA Tournament bracket projections while the Wildcats are tied with Texas A&M for first place in the Southeastern Conference. The last time the two teams met was on February 6 in Lexington where Kentucky gave Florida a beating ending at 80-61. In that game the Wildcats had their freak of a freshman, Jamal Murray, go 13-for-21 from the field and ended the game with 35 of UK’s 80 points.
Florida’s first three rematch games this season resulted in season sweeps before splitting with LSU. UF earned the sweep vs. Ole Miss and Georgia, but fell to Vanderbilt in both meetings with the Commodores. The Gators look for another split after falling in Lexington earlier this season.
After 36 seasons in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, Tuesday marks the last men’s basketball game before the building undergoes a $64.5 million renovation. The building is planned to reopen in time for the Gators’ 2017 SEC schedule.
As Dorian Finney-Smith enters his final game at the O’Connell Center, he ranks #42 on Florida’s all-time scoring list (1,121 points) with a chance to catch two of the Gators’ greatest players. Finney-Smith needs two points to match Al Horford and 12 to tie Joakim Noah.
John Egbunu’s 36 points over the past two games mark his best two-game stretch of the season. His 22 points at LSU marked a career high and his first 20-point game at UF.
The Kentucky Wildcats are known for their consistency in leading the conference in men’s basketball. However, this year they have not been to par with past years. They have managed to lose a total of eight game, five coming in conference play. All eight of those losses came from road games. The Wildcats were only able to win five of their thirteen games on the road.
However, just because they have lost more than half of their games on the road does not mean that this team cannot produce outside of Rupp Arena. Murray is averaging roughly 20 points and five rebounds per game this season easily making him the go-to guy for Kentucky to put it in the basket.
Yet, Kentucky is not the kind of team to just have one player steal the show. Point guard Tyler Ulis is not far behind Murray, averaging almost 17 points and seven rebounds per game. The last time that Ulis played against the Gators, he walked away with 18 points and 11 assists as no Gator could find an answer on how to shut him down.
What this game means
Coming into Tuesday’s game the Kentucky Wildcats are working toward another SEC title and of course play for a higher seed for the NCAA Tournament. Because they are currently tied with Texas A&M for the no.1 seed in the SEC, they need to keep winning in order to pull away from the tie.
As for the Gators, they are on a three-game losing skid – their worst streak of the season. They need this win to get back in the good graces of the upcoming NCAA Tournament brackets. That, and they need it for their confidence after some huge blows with losses to LSU, South Carolina and Vanderbilt all in a row. This is also their last home game of the season before the O’ Dome gets renovated, so a win against Kentucky would be a huge way to end their home season.
Tune in on Tuesday night on the SEC Network if you cannot make it out for your last men’s basketball game in the old O’ Dome. As always, be sure to follow along with us right here at GatorCountry.com on our message boards for updates during the game.