scored a game-high 24 points, and swiped four steals. (Andy Lyon
It has been said that there are two great teams in the SEC this season. Florida and Kentucky comprise their own elite tier, and the rest of the SEC is either average or awful. But I think it’s time we re-think the league’s pecking order. Florida is in a class of its own. It showed why Saturday night when it beat the Wildcats, 69-59, in Lexington.
Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison drilled a three with just over six minutes to go to tie the game at 53, but Florida guard Michael Frazier II responded with an even bigger three two minutes later to put the Gators up five. Florida executed down the stretch, played good defense and made enough free throws to hang on for the win. Gators forward Casey Prather scored a game-high 24 points, swiped four steals and snared one huge rebound with less than two minutes remaining and his team up five. Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin had 23 points and shot 11-of-12 from the free throw line.
The Gators have all but wrapped up the SEC regular season championship. They will be favored to win every game the rest of the season and are on track to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. How good is this team? It’s not unreasonable to argue that it’s the best in the country. Because of how many bad or mediocre teams there are in the SEC, Florida hasn’t played a tough conference schedule. But it has handled every challenge thrown its way and looked exceptionally good doing so. Make no mistake: the Gators are a national championship contender.
People will overreact to Kentucky losing, but I don’t think Saturday night’s game proved anything about the Wildcats that we didn’t already know. Kentucky is a good, but not great, team. They played up to their competition on their home floor. The result is what matters, and Kentucky definitely could have used a win to improve its NCAA Tournament resumé. But it’s hard to fault the Wildcats too much for losing to one of, if not the best team in the country.
There were some positives, at least, for Kentucky. Freshman guard James Young shot 7-of-10 from the field and 3-of-5 from three-point range for 19 points. Freshman point guard Andrew Harrison had 20 points and shot a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line. The Wildcats played well for much of the game; a technical foul on coach John Calipari with eight minutes left felt like a turning point. The Gators outscored Kentucky by 11 after that. Whether it had anything to do with Calipari’s tech, Kentucky just couldn’t make enough plays down the stretch to stay in the game. The one that sticks out is the rebound Prather grabbed over three Kentucky players that were standing around him.
Kentucky faces a tough game on Tuesday at Ole Miss. It will be interesting to see if the Wildcats regroup after this loss. The Wildcats remain in position to make the NCAA Tournament, but any loss from here on out – with the exception of their season finale at Florida – will negatively affect where they’re seeded.
We’ve waited all season for Kentucky to “develop” and “mature” into a team capable of competing for a national championship. Well, it’s February 15, and the Wildcats had an opportunity to knock off a national title threat on their home floor. They came up short. Maybe Kentucky simply is what it is: a good but not outstanding team. The Gators are better -- the Gators are great. And they showed it Saturday night.