Gainesville, FL (Sports Network) - SEC frontrunners are set for a Tuesday night showdown at the O'Connell Center, as the seventh-ranked Florida Gators entertain the 25th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats.
Kentucky has finally started to play up to its lofty expectations in recent weeks, as it has posted a season-high five straight wins to improve to 17-6 overall, and at 8-2 in the SEC it is just a game out of first place. The Wildcats hosted Auburn on Saturday and claimed a 72-62 decision, and now they head back on the road where they've won four of their last five.
Florida slipped up early last week in an 80-69 loss at Arkansas, which caused the team to drop from No. 2 to No. 7 in the latest AP poll, but it bounced back nicely with an dominating 83-58 triumph over Mississippi State on Saturday to improve to 19-3 overall and remain in first place in the SEC at 9-1. The Gators have not suffered a loss in 11 bouts in Gainesville this season.
Kentucky has won five straight games against Florida, the most recent of which was a 74-71 verdict in the semifinals of the 2012 SEC Tournament. As a result, the Wildcats hold a commanding 93-33 advantage in the all-time series.
The Wildcats put forth a rather lackluster performance early on against Auburn, as they led by only three points early in the second half. Then, the defending national champs went on a tear, going on a 20-8 run to pull away for the double-digit win. Kentucky shot a modest 43.5 percent from the field, but outscored Auburn from the foul line, 26-11. Kyle Wiltjer and Willie Cauley- Stein were solid off the bench, netting 14 and 12 points, respectively. Ryan Harrow added 12 points of his owns, while Julius Mays had 10 points, and Nerlens Noel tallied his third straight double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Noel's offensive output in his freshman season has been solid (10.6 ppg), but he has been a dominant force on the boards (9.6 rpg) and at the defensive end of the floor (2.1 spg, nation-best 4.5 bpg). Fellow rookies Archie Goodwin (14.2 ppg) and Alex Poythress (12.3 ppg, .607 FG percentage) have also been impressive, and upperclassmen Wiltjer (11.7 ppg), Harrow (10.4 ppg) and Mays (9.3 ppg) bring plenty of depth to the squad. As a team, Kentucky shoots 48.8 percent from the field for 76.0 ppg, nearly 14 ppg more than its opponents (62.5 ppg).
Florida had little trouble dismissing Mississippi State over the weekend, shooting 52.5 percent from the field while winning the turnover battle, 16-8, in staking claim to a 25-point victory. Mike Rosario shot 7-of-11 from the field for 18 points, while Erik Murphy drained three 3-pointers on his way to 17 points. Casey Prather chipped in 12 points off the bench, and Michael Frazier (11 points) and Kenny Boynton (10 points, six assists) also had productive outings. In addition to scoring 74.2 ppg on better than 49 percent shooting from the field (38.8 percent from beyond the arc), Florida ranks fourth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing a paltry 52.7 ppg. Boynton (13.1 ppg), Murphy (12.9 ppg) and Rosario (12.5 ppg) are all vying to become the team's top scorer. The trio has a combined 129 treys, and all three shoot in excess of 80 percent from the foul line. Patric Young (10.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.7 bpg) has been strong in the paint, and one of his battery mates, forward Will Yeguete (6.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg), will miss 4-to-6 weeks with a knee injury.