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Friday, September 29, 2023

Florida, Kentucky rivalry returns Saturday

Gators and Wildcats both sit on the bubble of NCAA Tournament

Florida guard Riley Kugel puts up a shot in the Gators 81-60 win against the South Carolina Gamecocks Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023.
Florida guard Riley Kugel puts up a shot in the Gators 81-60 win against the South Carolina Gamecocks Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023.

The Gators renew their rivalry against the Kentucky Wildcats in Rupp Arena Saturday night. 

The Florida Gators (13-9, 6-3 SEC) will look to carry their momentum from Wednesday into their game against Kentucky (15-7, 6-3 SEC). They upset the No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers with a 67-54 victory. 

Florida and Kentucky both sit on the bubble of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament as of Friday, according to ESPN reporter Joe Lunardi. The Gators are listed as one of the “First Four Out,” while the Wildcats sit as one of the “Last Four In.” 

Kentucky won its last game against Ole Miss Tuesday and has won five of its last six games. Florida head coach Todd Golden said the game is a great opportunity for the Gators to pick up another signature win.

Wildcats senior forward Oscar Tshiebwe will be the most dangerous player in the matchup. The 6-foot-9-inch forward leads the country with 13.6 rebounds per game, according to ESPN

Tshiebwe also averages 16.5 points per game — which ranks fourth in the Southeastern Conference — on a 58.1% clip.

Florida graduate student forward Colin Castleton’s matchup against Tshiebwe will be awesome to watch, Golden said. 

“They are two of the best frontcourt players in the country, playing in a big-time game,” Golden said. 

Wildcats senior guard Sahvir Wheeler may also make an impact Saturday. Wheeler leads the SEC with 5.7 assists per game. 

The Gators will need to stay aware of where he is on the court and try to limit his chances to create plays, Golden said.

“On top of that, not allow him to make plays for others, which I think is where he’s best,” Golden said.

Kentucky senior guard Antonio Reeves averages 13.4 points per game and is the Wildcats' second-leading scorer. The Illinois State transfer is utilized off the bench, with only five starts in 22 games this season.

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Reeves shoots 41% from beyond the arc. He scored 27 points against Ole Miss and finished 6-7 from deep. 

Golden’s hope for the Gators is that they come out playing aggressively, he said. He was disappointed by how they started in their last road game against Kansas State. 

He hopes Florida’s momentum from their upset win against No. 2 Tennessee will carry into Lexington, Kentucky, Saturday, he said. 

“My hope is after this win on Wednesday and the success we’ve had in league play, we’ll go out there and try to throw the first punch,” Golden said. 

Castleton’s 20 points lifted Florida to victory against the Volunteers. His defense will be key if Florida’s going to beat Kentucky, Golden said. 

The 6-foot-11-inch forward averages 15.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game — which both lead the team. Castleton’s 3.1 blocks per game rank third in the NCAA, according to ESPN

The game will be freshman guard Riley Kugel’s first trip to Rupp Arena. Kugel won’t take the moment for granted, he said. 

“If you love basketball, you love to be at a game like that,” Kugel said. “To be able to play there is a blessing.” 

Kugel started in the Gators’ last three games and is averaging 6.6 points per game. 

The team is excited to play against its rival but will treat it like any other game, Kugel said. Kentucky is favored, but Florida has the talent to come out on top, he said. 

“People don’t feel like we’re going to come in there and win, but I feel like that’s not the case at all,” Kugel said. “We can beat anybody in the nation.”

The Gators will take on the Wildcats Saturday in Lexington, Kentucky. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.

Contact Jackson Reyes at Follow him on Twitter @JacksnReyes.

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Jackson Reyes

Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.

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