No. 11 Kentucky, No. 13 Florida battle for first place

LEXINGTON, Ky. — With only three regular-season games left, first place in the Southeastern Conference is on the line Saturday when No. 11 Kentucky hosts No. 13 Florida at 2 p.m. at Rupp Arena.

“This is what you play for, this kind of game, where both teams have something to lose,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Every team we play has house money. Now this game, we both have something to lose.

“I keep telling them, ‘There’s going to be a time this season when you lose, your season ends. This ain’t it. So just play,’ If you win, it’s huge. It’s big. If you don’t, you lose the game. Next game. Who do we play next?”

The teams are dead even. Kentucky is 23-5, Florida is 23-5. Kentucky is 13-2 in SEC play, the Gators are 13-2.

Whichever team wins Saturday will hold a one-game lead with two to go.

Only one thing is certain in the eyes of Florida coach Mike White. Don’t expect a repeat of the Feb. 4 game, when Florida went wire-to-wire to rout Kentucky 88-66, giving the Wildcats their worst beat down in four seasons. The Gators won the rebounding battle 54-29 and shot 67 percent in the second half.

“I don’t expect to outrebound them by 25 again, I don’t expect to beat them by 22. I’d take a one-point win and throw a parade,” White said. “It’s going to be very difficult playing on the road in our league against one of the best teams in the country. And Rupp Arena presents its own unique challenges.”

In the teams’ earlier meeting, Florida was led by guard Kasey Hill, who scored 21 points. Devin Robinson had 16 points for the Gators, Canyon Berry came off the bench for 14 and sophomore KeVaughn Allen scored 12. Robinson and Chris Chiozza each had nine rebounds for Florida. Center John Egbunu, who had eight points and seven rebounds, is out for the season after tearing his ACL on Feb. 14.

Kentucky, which shot only 37.7 percent in that Feb. 4 game, got 19 points from freshman De’Aaron Fox and 11 from freshman Malik Monk. Fox, who had been battling the flu, did not start and was not expected to play that day but was forced into 25 minutes of action. It was a night to forget for sophomore Isaiah Briscoe (six points, four turnovers), Dominique Hawkins (four points, three turnovers) and senior Derek Willis (two points).

Fox is a game-time decision Saturday because of a bruised knee.

Both teams have won all five of their games since their first meeting.

“Kentucky will be very prepared, they are very, very good,” White said. “We know we’re the underdog going up there. But if we play really well, make good decisions with the basketball, execute our game plan, both on offense and defense, then we’ll have a chance. That’s all you can ask for on the road in this league, especially at Kentucky.”

Calipari is looking for the win and momentum going forward.

“You want them to peak at the end of the year. That’s what you want,” Calipari said. “We haven’t peaked yet so that’s not a bad thing. Now the question is, we’ve got to get them where we start playing a little more aggressive, more energy, more 50-50 balls, we play tougher, make easy plays, stay connected defensively and offensively, lock in more. All that kind of stuff is what we need to do.”