We’ve made it to the end of the regular season. On Saturday, the Florida Gators will close out the regular season with a trip to Kentucky to take on the defending national champion Wildcats. We’ve discussed this before, but it’s worth mentioning again, Kentucky is not the Kentucky of last season. The players that won that title are in the NBA for the most part and this is a very different Wildcat squad the Gators will face.
Florida, on the other hand, is not all that different from last season’s Elite Eight squad. Gone are Bradley Beal–drafted immediately following two former Wildcats–and Erving Walker, but the other major parts from last season’s roster are all intact. Even with Beal and Walker, the Gators went 0-3 against the Wildcats during the 2011-12 season. This season, without the two former starters, Florida is 1-0 with a 17-point victory over the new look Kentucky squad. A Kentucky squad desperately needing a win if they even hope to sniff the NCAA Tournament.
The 24-5 (14-3 SEC) Gators are in regardless of what happens. They could lose to the Wildcats and immediately exit the SEC Tournament with a loss in their first game and still make it to the big dance. Kentucky, though, needs help. At 20-10 (11-6 SEC), the Wildcats needed a strong finish to the regular season. Instead, they have gone 3-4 over the last seven, including bad losses to Arkansas and Georgia in their last two. Both teams want a victory, but one team needs it infinitely more.
That shouldn’t mean much though. The Gators won’t roll over just because they don’t necessarily need the win. A victory would help them secure a higher seed, but so would multiple wins in the conference tournament and an SEC tourney crown. Defeating this season’s Kentucky team doesn’t have the impact that beating last season’s would have, but going into Lexington and getting a win is still something to remember.
The Gators haven’t won at Rupp Arena since 2007 and are 0-2 in their last two SEC road games. Florida plays great at home, but has been shaky on the road in conference play. This is the time of the season to get over that. The Gators must play as they know they can. They defeated Kentucky once this season, and by a good margin, and should do so again. There’s no reason for a letdown, road game or not. Florida rebounded from a loss to Tennessee with a thin lineup to win two in a row in solid fashion. That momentum must be carried into Lexington and beyond. The regular season will be over in a few short hours, but the Gators shouldn’t look to the SEC and NCAA tournaments until that point.