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Cats remain upbeat heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale against Florida Gators in Gainesville

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky has gotten over its disappointing loss to Tennessee and the sixth-ranked Wildcats face a tough task in a bounce-back encounter at Florida in their regular-season finale Saturday in Gainesville.

Kentucky (24-6, 14-3 Southeastern Conference) let a 17-point lead slip away in an 81-73 setback to the Volunteers earlier this week. The loss was a second-half meltdown that included some tense moments for Kentucky coach John Calipari and his players, in particular, point guard Ashton Hagans.

“(It was in the) heat of the moment, some of that stuff,” he said Friday. “When you coach young kids, this is what pops out sometimes. And you won’t believe this, I get emotional, so I don’t mind when other people get emotional. I get it.”

Kentucky guard Ashton Hagans reacts after the Wildcats defeated Florida last month at Rupp Arena. The two teams play each other in the regular season finale Saturday in Gainesville. (Photo by Tammie Brown, Kentucky Today)

Kentucky forward Keion Brooks said practices and other team functions have “been great like usual and added that Calipari has been in a “great mood.”

“We’re competitors,” he said Friday. “We’re not always going to agree with each other. I wish we could all sit here and sing Kumbaya and everything would be all right, but that’s not how the game works. There are going to be some fiery times. There’s going to be some tension here and there, but as long as we all still believe in each other, that’s all that matters.”

The Wildcats have had trouble delivering the proverbial knockout blow, which is a puzzling trait even for Calipari, who admitted his squad is “a game-to-game team more than any other team that I’ve coached.

“Normally you’ll have an idea of who we’re going at,” he said. “This team is different.”

Florida (19-11, 11-6) is tangled in a three-way tie with LSU and Auburn for second place the league standings going into the final day of the regular season. With a win, the Gators can lock up a No. 2 seed for the league tournament that begins next week in Nashville. A loss could drop Florida to as low as fifth in the final standings, depending on the outcome of Auburn’s contest at Tennessee and LSU’s home encounter against Georgia on Saturday.

Kentucky edged Florida 65-59 on Feb. 22 in the first meeting between the two teams, a game that went own to the wire.

“It was anybody’s ballgame until Immanuel (Quickley) hit three 3s so let’s not say that we just dominated their guards because we didn’t,” Calipari said. “First half, we were playing pick-and-roll a certain way and we changed it up in the second half.

“That may have slowed them down, but they had every opportunity to win the game, including it was a five-point game late. So they’re good. They’re playing good basketball right now, they’ve got some vets and it’s a significant game.”

The Gators will honor Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Christopher Sutherland in their final home game of the season.

Caalipari speaks out

Calipari spoke out against a racial slur a Kentucky fan allegedly yelled to a Tennessee fan last Tuesday. That fan has been banned by the athletics department from attending games in the future.

Calipari said the fan’s harsh words were “unacceptable” and admitted that he didn’t see the video.

“I would just tell you that using a racial slur is unacceptable in any setting (at) anytime,” he said. “So I did not watch the video.”

He also added he’s also concerned about the ongoing coronavirus epidemic and said, “there is a concern.”

“I’m watching the news and trying to figure out everything,” he said. “(I’m) telling my team, ‘Hydrate. Wash your hands. Do everything you can.’ But, there’s a lot of stuff that will be out of our control and other people have to make decisions.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Florida, 1 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: CBS, UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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