Kentucky head coach John Calipari instructs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. Kentucky won 77-74. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
- The Florida Gators (5-2, 2-1 SEC), coming off an 86-71 road loss to Alabama, host the suddenly-streaking Kentucky Wildcats (3-6, 2-0 SEC) Saturday, Jan. 9
- The Gators lost for the first time in Tuscaloosa in 15 years Tuesday, while the Wildcats won their second in a row thanks to a 77-74 victory against Vanderbilt
- Read below for odds, analysis, and our best bet for this matchup
The Florida Gators will try to rebound from a troubling loss to Alabama when they host the suddenly-streaking Kentucky Wildcats Saturday, Jan. 9 in Gainesville. Tip is set for 5:00 pm ET inside the O’Connell Center.
UF Head coach Mike White made a somewhat stunning admission following his program’s first loss at Alabama since 2006 Tuesday.
“I thought they played harder than us,” White said after his team’s 86-71 defeat. “You hate to ever admit that, but that’s reality.”
Now, the Gators return home and will try to snap a two-game losing skid to Kentucky in Gainesville.
Meanwhile, Coach Cal’s ‘Cats enter the weekend showdown as winners of two straight and will be buoyed by the return of sophomore Keion Brooks Jr. Despite the teams seemingly heading in opposite directions, Florida is favored over UK in this spot.
Kentucky vs Florida Odds
|Kentucky||+4.5 (-108)||+176||Ov 140.5 (-112)|
|Florida||-4.5 (-112)||-210||Un 140.5 (-108)|
Odds taken Jan. 8 at FanDuel
Florida is currently rated as the second-best team in the SEC at No. 23 by KenPom, 14 spots behind the the preseason pick to win the conference, Tennessee at No. 9, and one spot in front of Alabama, the team it lost to Tuesday.
A trio of ‘Bama players scored 16 points each to pace a well-balanced Tide effort to beat UF. Guard Keon Ellis got his 16 off the bench, while fellow backcourt mates Herb Jones and Jalen Shackelford got their points on drives to the bucket. The game was the most lopsided loss suffered by the Gators since a 68-51 defeat last Feb. 8 at Ole Miss.
Of course, the signature moment for White’s program so far this season was the horrific collapse of projected SEC Player of the Year Keyontae Johnson Dec. 12 against in-state rival Florida State. The head coach said Johnson, who returned to the team last week after a quick recovery from the scary incident, will have a new role helping with coaching and scouting moving forward.. It’s unclear if he’ll play again this season — but him just being part of the team again is good.
Keyontae Johnson, in his first game back on the bench since his collapse, looking on as Florida tries to close out LSU. Ya love to see it. pic.twitter.com/1VNwzBbZ5w
— Kyle Boone (@Kyle__Boone) January 2, 2021
The Gators — projected to finish fourth in the preseason poll — have gotten double-digit scoring from three players after losing the ultra-talented junior from Virginia. But exactly how much they can rely upon Kerry Blackshear Jr., Andrew Nembhard and Noah Locke long-term remains to be seen.
While Johnson remains on the sidelines, the Wildcats get forward Keion Brooks Jr. back for Saturday’s tilt.
Grateful to be back on the floor with my brothers.
Our team doctors have medically cleared me to play. 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/UFaR07a0fH
— Keion Brooks Jr. (@KeionB_12) January 7, 2021
The 6-foot-7 sophomore missed the first nine games with a left leg injury and is the only player on UK’s current roster that logged minutes last season. His return couldn’t have come at a better time for Calipari’s club, which has grossly underachieved early on in the 2020-21 campaign. But after a pair of wins over Mississippi State and Vanderbilt that followed a six-game losing streak, perhaps the Wildcats can build on current momentum.
Kentucky was picked to finish second behind the Vols in the preseason poll. Freshman phenom Brandon Boston Jr. and Olivier Sarr wer picked to end up on the SEC First Team and Second Team, respectively. As always, this team has an abundance of talent. Now, with Brooks’ experience coming back, the SEC might be wide open.
2021 NCAA Men’s Tournament Championship Odds Tracker
Trend is UK’s Friend
The ‘Cats have won four straight in the series and are seeking a third straight victory at O’Connell for the first time since 2002-04.
I’m not sure if barely beating the dregs of the conference (not much is expected from the Bulldogs or Commodores this season) is enough for me to go out on a limb and pick UK straight up. But KenPom predicts this game to be a 74-68 loss at Florida for Kentucky.
Based on prolonged Gator uncertainty from a Johnson successor standpoint, the return of Brooks and recent history, I’ll gladly take the underdog Wildcats and the points in this one.
The pick: Kentucky +4.5 (-108)
Blair Johnson is a veteran journalist and seasoned sports content creator. He has been writing and producing content as long as he can remember, with such familiar names as CNN, NFL Media and Yahoo. Blair currently lives and works in the greater Los Angeles area.