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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Don’t miss this one.

Second-ranked Kentucky is coming to the O’Connell Center for a 9 p.m. tip and the biggest home game of the year.

ESPN will be there with Dickie V and everyone’s favorite sideline reporter, Erin Andrews.

Tonight is also one of Florida’s best remaining chances to snag another signature win.

UF has likely already done enough to earn a NCAA Tournament berth barring a collapse in conference play, but the Gators’ resume could still use some help when it comes time for seeding.

As of Monday night, there weren’t any student tickets left, so you’re probably going to be left watching the game on TV, unless you’re willing to wait in the cold outside the O’Dome to hope for some no-shows. I don’t know if this will be worth frostbite, but I do think the Gators have a good chance to upset one of the country’s two remaining undefeated teams.

The last time a top-two team came to the O’Connell Center was 2003, when UK edged Florida by two.

(And if I’m completely off, you’ll still get a chance to see John Wall, one of the top-five players in the country. Just saying.)

Here are three reasons why Florida could knock off Kentucky tonight:

1. UK isn’t as good as its 16-0 record: Yes, the Wildcats are extremely talented, and John Calipari is one heck of a coach (minus all those recruiting violations, of course). But even he knows that his team has stumbled at times, including a 62-60 win over Miami of Ohio and letting Georgia stick around until the final minutes a few days ago. Also, both of those close calls came at home. In fact, Calipari currently considers his team’s “record” to be 9-7. I won’t go that far, but it’s worth noting Kentucky has let teams hang around. That being said, UK has walked onto a floor 16 times and walked off with 16 wins, so it knows something about scraping out a W. UF will need to play its best game to pull the upset, but this team can do great things when clicking on all cylinders, something not always true in past years.

2. The Gators finally found their offense: UF shot 51.8 percent against Vanderbilt on Saturday, only the fifth time in 15 games that Florida has shot better than 50 percent. The Gators scored a season-high 87 points in their loss to VU. The previous game, UF scored only 62 points in an overtime win over N.C. State. Vanderbilt isn’t too shabby on defense either, holding opponents to less than 40 percent shooting, and the Commodores are ranked fourth in the SEC in opponents’ field-goal shooting percentage. Unfortunately, the same game Florida found its shooting stroke, it also forgot to play defense. Don’t bet on another lackluster defensive effort.

3. Florida has done this before: UF beat then-No. 2 Michigan State 77-74 back in November. The Spartans are still ranked in the top 10 (No. 7), and all three of their losses have come to top-notch competition (UNC and Texas were the other two). Florida also had a nationally televised duel with Syracuse back in December that the Orange won 85-73, although it was close until the final minutes. An interesting coincidence is the Commodores, the Spartans and the Orange shot 52 percent against the Gators. In two of those contests, Florida lost the turnover battle — and the game. UF needs to use its press to get easy baskets. Being at home should help the Gators weather any early run, but they won’t want to let Wall run up and down the court. Keep it close, and anything can happen at the end.

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