Florida coach Mike White is not discussing the SEC standings with his players or what could be at stake Saturday at Kentucky.
Everybody else might talk about it — about the No. 13 Gators’ marquee showdown with No. 11 Kentucky that will break a tie atop the conference standings and could determine the regular-season title — but not White.
“Zero. None. None at all,” White said Friday before the team left Gainesville. “Our guys, they’re on social media. They read the internet. I wish they’d read it less. They know it’s a big game, and it’d be a big game if Kentucky and Florida were both whatever, 10-6. It’d be a big game either way.
“It’s, obviously, got a lot of implications, but if we’re investing time and energy into those things, as opposed to transition defense and how we’re defending Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe and [De’Aaron] Fox, how we’re keeping him out of the paint, and defending [Bam] Adebayo in the post and those type things and just our game plan, then we’re doing ourselves a disservice.”
Florida (23-5, 13-2 SEC) visits Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., for this highly anticipated rematch with Kentucky (23-5, 13-2) after scoring a momentous 88-66 win over the Wildcats earlier this month in Gainesville.
Both teams will have two games left after Saturday, with Florida closing against Arkansas and at Vanderbilt, and Kentucky hosting Vanderbilt and wrapping up at Texas A&M.
Nothing officially will be decided in this one, but it has the feel of a regular-season title bout.
“To us, it’s a big accomplishment to be in this position right now,” Florida sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen said. “We’ve just got to continue to build on what we’re working on and just continue to get our defense better, and offense will come to us.”
Florida is one of the hottest teams in the country with 9 consecutive wins — by an average margin of 20.9 points — and is enjoying a breakout season in White’s second year with the program. After missing the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons, the Gators are surging toward it with all kinds of momentum.
While he doesn’t want to discuss it with his players, or really at all, White didn’t dismiss the significance of potentially picking up a regular-season title along the way.
”It’s great. Our guys have done their jobs. They’ve been terrific,” White said. “Our culture has really taken a turn for the good. Again, our guys really enjoy each other. They’ve worked extremely hard all year. They’ve been consistent with their attitude and effort. We’ve got talent, we’ve got depth and we’ve had to overcome some adversity and we’ve done that. That’s what you want to do at Florida in all sports — to be in position to potentially win championships. I’m proud of where we are, but we’ve got a ways to go.
“[Saturday is] going to be very difficult, and then the next two are going to be very difficult as well. It’s just, we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about the scouting report, playing at Rupp, competing against coach [John] Calipari’s team. That’s the focus right now. Everything else will take care of itself. We’ve got to focus on playing well.”
White expects second-leading scorer Canyon Barry (12.7 points per game) to play a larger role after going scoreless in 9 minutes Tuesday night while playing through a right ankle injury, though he may not be back at full strength.
Allen, meanwhile, is coming off an inspired 26-point, 7-rebound performance.
Though Florida won the teams’ first meeting of the season, the Gators are 9-50 all time at Kentucky and lost 80-61 in their visit to Rupp last season.
White doesn’t want his players drawing any conclusions after that 22-point win over the Wildcats earlier this month.
“We’re not 22 points better than them. We know that,” he said. “They’re very, very good. I think they’re playing well right now. They’re defending at a high level, they’re tough, they’re resilient. … What’d we learn from that game? We played really well, that they’re really good, but it wasn’t a surprise. We’ll have to play awfully well to beat them at their place, of course. We know that.”
What time is tip-off?
The game starts at 2 p.m. at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.
What TV channel is showing the Florida-Kentucky game?
The game is on CBS and can be streamed via the CBS Sports App.
Who is calling the Florida-Kentucky game?
Brad Nessler is on the play-by-play call, and Jim Spanarkel is the analyst.
Looking at Kentucky
Just like the first meeting, Fox is considered a game-time decision, this time with a right knee injury.
The standout freshman point guard was battling an illness the last time the teams met and ended up scoring a team-high 19 points in 25 minutes.
He averages 15.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Fellow freshman guard Monk ranks second in the SEC with 21.1 points per game.
The Wildcats might be the most scrutinized top-15 team in the country with all their high-profile talent. But they’ve won 5 consecutive games since that loss at Florida to keep pace atop the standings.
“First off, they’re terrific defensively every year, as we all know, and I think they’re defending as well as they’ve defended all year right now,” White said. “But offensively, when Adebayo’s got it going in the paint and [Wenyen] Gabriel and [forward Derek] Willis are hitting perimeter shots, and Monk’s as good of a scorer as there is in college basketball. Fox is playing at an all-time high, playing with a lot of confidence, getting to the foul line, converting at the foul line. (Guard Isaiah) Briscoe is one of the hardest guys in the country to keep out of the paint like Fox. They’re just so difficult to defend.”