Five things to know about Kentucky basketball’s next opponent, the Florida Gators:
1. The Gators have struggled to put the ball in the basket
Coach Mike White’s team ranks 10th in adjust defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, but 90th in adjusted offensive efficiency. (The Gators are 31st overall.) They’re shooting just 42.4 percent from the floor, including 35.5 percent from three-point range. The latter number ranks 106th in the nation, while Florida is 241st in two-point percentage at 48.1. You get the picture.
Still, there’s more. Florida has scored less than 70 points in 12 of its 20 games. The Gators have scored 60 points or less in six of those 20. In the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, the Gators fell behind TCU 18-4 early and ended up losing 55-50 to the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth.
2. Jalen Hudson has been Florida’s mystery man
Last season, the junior transfer from Virginia Tech averaged 15.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. He shot 45.5 percent from the floor, including 40.7 percent from three-point range. This year, the 6-foot-6 guard is averaging just 6.2 points, 2.4 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game. He’s shooting 45.5 percent from the floor, including just 29.4 percent from three-point range.
What gives? No one seems to know, including White. “The most gut-wrenching thing for me is not being able to figure it out,” said the coach, according to the AP. “I feel for him. I really believe he’s better than this and he believes in this. … It’s just, it’s tough. He’s going through something tough. Obviously our team is. I haven’t been able to figure it out. That’s the hardest thing. But there’s time.”
The clock is ticking, however. Hudson scored a combined 36 points in Florida’s first three games. Since then, he’s been in double figures just twice, and not once since Dec. 29 against Butler. Over his last six games, Hudson has made 10 of 39 shots, including six of 22 from three-point range.
3. Noah Locke has been a bright spot
The 6-foot-3 freshman guard from Randallstown, Md., scored a team-high 22 points in the Gators’ 90-86 overtime win over Ole Miss on Wednesday night. Locke was 6-of-11 from three-point range. And that was no fluke. For the season, he’s shooting 42.9 percent from three.
Locke has a quick, no-hesitation release on his shot that works to his advantage. As he’s replaced the struggling Hudson in the starting lineup, Locke’s confidence appears to be growing. He made seven of 13 threes while scoring 27 points in the team’s 81-71 win over Texas A&M on Jan. 22. He scored 16 points in UF’s 78-67 loss to now top-ranked Tennessee.
White has also been pleased with the development of fellow freshman Keyontae Johnson. The 6-5 guard from Norfolk, Va., scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds against Ole Miss. He’s averaged eight rebounds over his last four games.
That’s helped make up for the loss of 6-8 junior forward Keith Stone, who tore his ACL on Jan. 19 against Georgia. At the time of his injury. Stone was averaging 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.
4. KeVaughn Allen is still Florida’s leader
The 6-2 senior leads the Gators in scoring at 13.2 points per game. He’s shooting 37.3 percent from three-point range and 87.5 percent from the foul line. It was Allen who rose up and hit a contested three with 2.7 seconds left against Ole Miss on Wednesday to send the game to overtime. Prior to the shot, he had missed all six of his three-point attempts.
Allen can be streaky. He scored 31 points in the win over Texas A&M, then was held to 11 points at TCU. After making eight of 10 threes against the Aggies, he was 2-of-9 from three against the Horned Frogs. Earlier, he was 1-of-9 from three at Arkansas — Allen is from Little Rock — then was 5-of-6 from beyond the arc against Tennessee.
If the Gators have a chance of upsetting the Cats on Saturday, however, they’ll need Allen to be on his game.
5. Florida has been a tough place for UK to play
After starting the season 1-3 in SEC play, the Gators have won three straight conference games. They beat Georgia 62-52, Texas A&M and then Ole Miss. Before that, they opened with a last-second 71-69 loss to South Carolina, a 57-51 win at Arkansas and an 11-point loss to Tennessee, followed by a 71-68 loss at Mississippi State.
The Gators have won two straight and four of the last six against Kentucky in Gainesville, however. Florida won last year’s game 80-67 after spanking the Cats 88-66 in 2017. UK did beat the Gators in 2015 (68-61) and 2016 (88-79), but that was after the Cats took a 69-52 loss at Florida in 2013 and an 84-65 whipping in 2014.
In his fourth season at Florida, White is 3-3 against John Calipari and the Cats. He’s 2-1 at Gainesville and 1-2 in Lexington. Overall, Billy Donovan’s successor is 80-45 as the Florida coach, including 37-23 in the SEC. He went 21-15, 27-9 and 21-13 overall his first three seasons. He was 9-9, 14-4 and 11-7 in the SEC..
By the way, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has Florida playing in the NCAA Tournament’s First Four as a No. 11 seed against fellow No. 11 seed Seton Hall. If you remember, Seton Hall beat UK 84-83 in overtime at Madison Square Garden back in December. Lunardi has UK as a No. 2 seed.