Kentucky will look to continue its late push toward an NCAA Tournament berth when it plays at Southeastern Conference rival Florida on Wednesday in Gainesville, Fla.
The Wildcats (18-9, 9-5 SEC) have won two straight and are coming off a 66-54 victory over then-No. 10 Tennessee on Saturday.
ESPN projects Kentucky as an 8-seed in the NCAA Tournament in its latest bracketology. But the Wildcats can’t afford a late-season stumble if they want to return to the NCAA Tournament for the 11th time in 14 seasons under coach John Calipari.
“Talking us out of the NCAA Tournament does not work,” Calipari said. “You either play yourself in or you play yourself out …
“Everything is us going forward. So we have a tough game. We got road games, two tough road games. We got two tough home games. Play the games. Let’s see how we are. Let’s see if we get healthy. Let’s see if we get better.”
Of late, Kentucky has had success working the ball inside to center Oscar Tshiebwe (15.0 points, 13.8 rebounds) and forward Chris Livingston, who earned SEC freshman of the week honors after averaging 12.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in wins over Mississippi State and Tennessee.
Cason Wallace scored 20 points in Kentucky’s 72-67 win over Florida on Feb. 4.
Florida (14-13, 7-7) struggled in its first game without leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker Colin Castleton, falling 84-65 at Arkansas last Saturday. Castleton broke his hand in Florida’s 79-64 win over Ole Miss on Feb. 15 and is out for the season.
Without Castleton’s ability to protect the rim (3.0 blocks per game), Florida surrendered 52 points in the paint in the Arkansas loss.
“Collectively we weren’t strong enough, weren’t tough enough in terms of keeping them out of the paint,” Gators coach Todd Golden said. “We knew going into that game it was going to be a challenge as we try to re-invent ourselves.”
The Gators will look for freshman guard Riley Kugel to continue to step up offensively in Castleton’s absence. Kugel has scored in double figures in four straight games, averaging 15.5 points per game during that span.
“We can still compete,” Golden said. “We have four games left in the regular season. All four are winnable games for us, one way or the other. Obviously, it’s going to be more difficult for us now, but I want to make sure guys are going about it with the mentality of we’re here to win every game.”
– Field Level Media