By LARRY VAUGHT
Florida has already played two Final Four contenders — Tennessee and Michigan State — and lost to both of them.
Saturday the Gators get to host Kentucky, a team that has certainly convinced Florida coach Mike White that it can be a Final Four contender — or more.
“I am not going to sit here and tell you they are hands down better than Tennessee or Michigan State but they are all teams that have a chance to go to the Final Four and win a championship,” said White. “They have improved in a lot of areas but they have made a huge jump in defense.
“They play hard, have some toughness, size, length. They are very good. We are going to have to play very well to be competitive. They are definitely not a veteran team but they have more experience. They are just a really good team.
“Our guys will be ready to play and geeked up. Kentucky demands that from anyone they play of course. When Kentucky comes in it increases the level of intensity in the arena. If you don’t play awfully well against a team like this, it’s not about your finish. We just hope we are competitive enough to have a chance late and give Gator Nation something to cheer about so they can help us.”
White says he has a lot of concerns but he “wonders how we can score enough to have a chance” because of the lack of production the Gators have got off the bench recently. The Gators got 90 points in an overtime win over Ole Miss Wednesday but rank near the bottom of the SEC in scoring (69.8 points per game) and shooting (42.4 percent). Kentucky gives up just 66.5 points per game and opponents are hitting 41 percent against the Cats. Kentucky is No. 1 in the SEC in rebounding margin at plus 9.2.
Kentucky ranks fourth in the SEC in scoring at 79.9 points per game and second in field goal percentage at 48.4, but Florida is holding teams to a SEC-low 62.7 points per game and 41.1 percent shooting from the field.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said Friday he knew his team was going into a “madhouse” at Florida Saturday.
“It’s been a hard place for us to play. They make shots there. They’re shooting the last five games 30 3-point shots a game. They may shoot 35, and if they make 20, it’s been a nice little run, now who do we play next,” Calipari said. “They’re shooting, and if they’re on fire making them, going to make it hard.
“They had Tennessee. It was 69-67. As a matter of fact, they had them down as many as seven, eight, nine. It was with a minute and a half, two minutes to go, 69-67 and anybody’s ballgame, so they’re that good.
“They play, and they throw a little 1-2-2 out there. They throw a little 1-3-1 out there, throw a little 3-2 zone out there. They’ll play.”
Florida sometimes will play a four-guard lineup, but that didn’t seem to overly concern Calipari because of the versatility he has on his team.
“If we need to go small we can, we can put Keldon at four if I think that’s what we need to do,” Calipari said. “But again, I like people to adjust to us more than us adjust to them.”