Stiff test for UF to open SEC play

The Florida Gators (10-3, 0-0) are preparing for their first Southeastern Conference game on New Year’s Day, and it will be no walk in the park. The Gators will have to arrive to the challenge of facing a top opponent in the conference in No. 6 Kentucky (11-2, 0-0) at the O’Connell Center at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Kentucky junior guard A’dia Mathies was a preseason first team All-SEC selection by the coaches and media. She has met and, arguably, exceeded those expectations by averaging 15.4 points per game with 45 steals this season. Most impressive of all, she has brought a Wildcats’ team that was projected to finish second in the conference to not just being a top SEC team, but a team that’s recognized in the top tier nationally.

However, Florida may be playing Kentucky at just the right time because the ‘Cats have lost two of their last three games, Both losses were on the road. Their most recent game had to drain some of the energy the Wildcats had in non-conference play when they were upset 70-58 against Middle Tennessee (9-5, 0-0). On the other side, the Gators have a seven-game win-streak at home, so UF coach Amanda Butler is looking to extend that streak.

Last season, the Gators were a 7-9 in conference play.

“We have to take everything we’ve done to this point in the season and take it to another level,” Butler said. “We have to find ways to be more mature, more dedicated, more committed and more intense to be successful in the Southeastern Conference. We will always think about winning championships in this league and to do that you have to go through Kentucky. They are very good and there’s no getting around them.

“I had a unique opportunity to watch early film on them play because the played Samford right before our ballgame. They are quick and athletic and we’re going to have to be prepared for everything they bring.”

Yes, the Gators will have to be extra prepared for this nationally-ranked Kentucky squad, but the ‘Cats have to prepare for the Gators, too. Or more specifically, they have to prepare for Jennifer George. After her 0-for-1 shooting, three rebounds performance in the season opener, the junior forward has averaged a double-double with 15.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. She has had five consecutive double-doubles (seven overall) entering Sunday’s game. 

George, who was Southeastern Conference Player of the Week Dec. 26, leads Florida in scoring (13.8 points per game) and rebounding (9.9 rebounds per game). She is shooting 59.2 percent from the floor, second-best in the Southeastern Conference.

Seniors Azania Stewart, Jordan Jones and Deana Allen are looking to finally capitalize on a strong non-conference record by playing solid and resilient in conference play, which is something the Gators have not been able to do in years’ past.

“Things didn’t quite go our way in the SEC last season, so I’m excited to start this year on a good note,” Allen said.

Gator Country reporter Max Mattern can be reached at