March 12, 2015

Another loss could cost Kentucky its spot among the nation's elite for the first time in almost two years. It could also go a long way to putting Florida back there.

The No. 20 Wildcats look to extend their winning streak at Rupp Arena to 33 games in order to avoid their longest slide in seven years Saturday against the revitalized Gators.

Kentucky (16-6, 6-3 in SEC) was the top-ranked team in the nation as recently as Nov. 30, but a 9-6 stretch has it in danger of falling out of the AP poll for the first time since the end of the 2013-14 regular season.

The Wildcats didn't do themselves any favors Tuesday, blowing a 21-point lead and losing 84-77 at Tennessee. A three-game slide would be their longest since dropping four in a row from Feb. 25-March 7, 2009.

"We've got a ways to go," coach John Calipari said.

Kentucky took all three meetings with the Gators last season by an average of 13.0 points, including a 67-50 victory at home March 7.

This matchup, however, appears much more challenging and a serious threat to the Wildcats' 32-game run at Rupp - during which they've outscored opponents by an average of 21.3 points.

Florida (15-7, 6-3) has positioned itself to return to the Top 25 for the first time since Nov. 24, 2014.

The Gators went 4-5 before winning five of their last six games, a stretch that includes an 88-71 win over then-ninth-ranked West Virginia last Saturday that ended their 10-game slide to ranked opponents.

They followed that up Wednesday by beating Arkansas 87-83 at home.

"We're playing with a lot of confidence right now," first-year coach Mike White said. "We're way more of a confident team than we were earlier in the season."

White hopes that extends to the road, where Florida has lost five of its last six while averaging 63.8 points - 11.2 below its season mark.

The Gators, though, are shooting 52.0 percent from the floor - 43.6 from 3-point range - over the last two games. They've also been vastly better at the line, sinking 80.6 percent after making a league-low 62.3 through the first 20 games.

"I think it was mental," forward Dorian Finney-Smith said. "We shoot 80, 85 percent every day in practice as a team. So I know it's just a mental thing. We do it every day in practice. We shoot free throws and we make them. It's just starting to correlate."

Finney-Smith leads the team with averages of 15.1 points and 8.2 rebounds and has stepped up to average 20.4 and 9.8 over the last five. He's also shooting 57.4 percent from the field, including 13 of 27 from long range.

Finney-Smith only managed four points in a 2-for-10 shooting effort in a 64-49 loss to the Wildcats in the last year's SEC tournament quarterfinals.

Kentucky's Tyler Ulis is looking to continue his outstanding stretch, averaging 22.2 points while sinking 54.5 percent from the floor over the last five games. The sophomore guard was scoring 14.4 points per game on 39.1 percent shooting through the first 16 games.

Ulis had 11 points and 11 assists coming off the bench in the three wins over Florida last season.

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