No. 24 Florida seeks 'breakthrough win' vs No. 8 Kentucky
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida coach Mike White admittedly checks rankings, ratings and projected NCAA Tournament brackets routinely.
Strength of schedule, RPI, wins against top-50 opponents, White knows all the numbers and how the 24th-ranked Gators stack up to everyone else. And he's not shy about making sure his players understand where they stand.
So it's no surprise that White's take before facing No. 8 Kentucky on Saturday night was clear, concise and certainly correct.
''I think it'd be a huge, breakthrough win for us, if we can get it done,'' White said Friday. ''We've had opportunities there.''
Indeed, the Gators (17-5, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) have had several chances to pull off signature victories this season. But they're winless in four games against teams currently ranked in the Top 25, losing to Gonzaga, Duke, Florida State and South Carolina.
And for a program expecting to return to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year hiatus and hoping to earn a top-four seed and play in nearby Orlando, winning big games is a must. And the Gators might not have too many more remaining in the regular season.
So Florida's next shot comes against the Wildcats (18-4, 8-1), who have won five in a row in the series and been the league's top team, by far, in recent years.
''That's not just any team, but if we look at it that way, then it's no fear and just going in there and attack,'' forward Devin Robinson said. ''They might be Goliath; we might be David. ... But anyone can be beaten. So we just go in there and play hard.''
Only one Florida player, senior guard Kasey Hill, even knows what it feels like to defeat Kentucky.
Nonetheless, the Gators have reason to be confident. They have won three consecutive games by at least 30 points, only the third time that's happened in school history. The previous two times happened with Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah - three eventual NBA lottery picks - on the roster.
The three-game tear against LSU, Oklahoma and Missouri followed two lackluster performances against South Carolina and Vanderbilt. After losing to the Commodores in Gainesville - which White called a ''fork in the road'' - players and coaches held a lengthy meeting to air out issues.
''We definitely redirected ourselves,'' Robinson said. ''Everybody put everything on the table. Some of it'' can't be repeated.
''We were all focused on the wrong things,'' the forward added. ''We needed to figure out our identity and playing to our identity.''
Florida has been at its best since, playing solid defense, forcing turnovers and scoring in transition.
''I feel like this is the best chance we've had of beating them since I've been here,'' guard Chris Chiozza said. ''We've played them close three times since I've been here and we just haven't been able to finish games off. The way we are playing right now I feel like we can beat anybody in the country.''
Although Kentucky has dropped two of its last three games and needed overtime to beat Georgia on Tuesday, coach John Calipari's team presents plenty of problems for Florida.
Malik Monk, De'Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe might be the best guard trio in the country and have a size and length advantage against the Gators.
''It's a layup drill if you turn the ball over against these guys,'' White said. ''We have to play really smart. ... I think we are a more confident team than a year ago. At the same time, our guys don't think, `Oh, we're going to blast Kentucky. Show up, play average and beat them.' They know better than that.
''If we play very well, we will have a chance, and that's all you can ask for. It's a healthy level of confidence and respect there.''
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