The Florida Gators didn’t pick the greatest time to meet Kentucky, with the Wildcats rolling and playing their best basketball of the season these last few weeks.
It shouldn’t take much to get the team amped up for this one. There’s an opportunity to beat a Top-10 SEC team at home, which is exactly what Florida needs to try to build its resume for a chance at postseason play.
But the Gators are going to have to put on a show from the opening tip to the final buzzer to make that happen.
“Our guys for the most part have been ready to play,” said head coach Mike White. “It’s just closing games, and in this one it’s a matter of whether or not you have an opportunity to be able to close a game. If you don’t play awfully well against a team like this, then it’s not about your finish. So, we hope we’re competitive enough to have a chance late.”
An offensive performance like the one against Ole Miss earlier in the week from KeVaughn Allen and the three freshmen will be a start, but White thinks it’s going to take a strong effort from the bench as well.
The bench hasn’t been much of a factor as of late, especially offensively, as its averaged just 10 points over the last three games.
Some inside scoring from Dontay Bassett and more productive minutes from Isaiah Stokes would be huge. Deaundrae Ballard looked like he would be able to shoot it some more for the Gators earlier in the season, but once again has dropped off in conference play averaging just 2.7 points per game.
Then, of course, there’s the Jalen Hudson enigma. The ability is still inside of him, but it would be ideal if it could make an appearance on Saturday.
“With how terrific they’ve become defensively, you wonder how you can score enough to have a chance,” White said. “We’ve gotten very little offensive production off the bench as of late, and you hope a guy would come in and make a play in that regard, while defending at the same level. We’ve got capable guys on the bench. Not that we’re getting great production right now, but at certain times in a couple of these guys’ young careers they’ve stepped up and made shots for us and made a winning play. We need it to happen again. We need it to happen more often. It’d be nice if it happened tomorrow.”
The Gators need every advantage they can get in this one, and the home crowd should be one of them. Florida faithful may be disappointed in the way this season has shaped out so far, but this matchup never fails to restore the energy in Gainesville.
“When Kentucky comes in, of course, I think it increases the level of intensity in the arena,” White said. “We have had a couple of those this year, Tennessee at home, Michigan State at home, where the Exactech Arena’s gotten to a rather high decibel level. Hopefully we give our people, Gator Nation, something to cheer about so they can help us throughout the game.”