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February 10, 2007

Game of the week: Florida vs. Kentucky

Not long ago, Kentucky was the first game everyone in the SEC circled on their schedules.

The Wildcats now have company.

Defending national champion Florida has joined Kentucky among the marked teams in the SEC. On Saturday, however, it's not Florida seeking a defining win over Kentucky. Instead, it's the Wildcats who seek to reclaim their elite status.

There is added incentive this weekend because UK is looking for its 400th win at Rupp Arena.

Florida lost eight in a row to Kentucky before the 2004-05 season. In the last two years, the tide turned with the Gators winning the last four meetings.

The No. 1 Gators (22-2, 9-0 SEC) face the No. 20 Wildcats (18-5, 7-2 SEC) on Saturday at 9 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. We'll take a look at the head-to-head matchups in our Game of the Week breakdown.

Game of the Week: No. 1 Florida (22-2, 9-0 SEC) at No. 20 Kentucky (18-5, 7-2 SEC)
Joakim Noah vs. Bobby Perry
Noah (6-11, 232) will be too quick for Randolph Morris, so Perry (6-8, 215) will likely be matched up on the Florida big man. The Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Noah has been a consistent rebounder and shot-blocker through the year. Perry, who shot 32 percent from the field over a 13-game span, broke out of his slump by shooting 70 percent from the field with a season-high 18 points against South Carolina on Wednesday.
Edge: Florida
Al Horford vs. Randolph Morris
The flashy and quotable Noah receives most of the attention from fans and media alike, but Horford has been Florida's Most Valuable big man this year. Noah has had three double-doubles in a row and ignites the Gators' inside-outside game with his passing. Morris, whom Tubby Smith held out of a start on Wednesday against South Carolina, needs to stay out of foul trouble for the Wildcats to contain Horford and Noah.
Edge: Florida
Corey Brewer vs. Derrick Jasper
The freshman Jasper (6-6, 213) will direct the Kentucky offense, but he will be matched up with Florida's Brewer (6-9, 185) rather than the Gators' shorter guards. The Wildcats are 13-2 with Jasper as a starter, but he can be up and down. He had six assists Wednesday against South Carolina, only two games after turning the ball over five times with no assists against Tennessee. Brewer, who crossed the 1,000 career point milestone in his last game, is the Gators' do-it-all player. His ability to shoot, rebound and defend makes him one of the nation's most versatile performers.
Edge: Florida
Lee Humphrey vs. Ramel Bradley
Get ready to see plenty of scoring from this matchup. After a dismal two-point performance against Georgia, Bradley has caught fire. He has averaged 22 points per game over the last four. Humphrey has shot 68.8 percent from 3-point range in SEC play, and has made 14 of 20 from beyond the arc in the last four games. It should be an interesting matchup with Kentucky holding SEC teams to a conference-best 40.8 percent shooting from the field.
Edge: Kentucky
Taurean Green vs. Joe Crawford
Billy Donovan insists it's not about scoring for his point guard. Green is coming off an eight-point, one-assist game against Georgia. However, Donovan still praised him for running the offense effectively on the road. Florida has an advantage down low, but Kentucky could have it on the perimeter with Crawford (6-5, 211). The big guard could use his size advantage against Green (6-0) and Humphrey (6-2). Crawford is averaging 18.3 points per game in SEC play.
Edge: Kentucky
Florida bench vs. Kentucky bench
Neither team relies too heavily on its bench. Even if Noah and Horford aren't in the game, the Gators can turn to Chris Richard (6-9, 255). Walter Hodge will take a guard spot to spell Green or Humphrey. The biggest bench factor will be who will come off the bench if Morris gets into foul trouble. Sheray Thomas and freshman Perry Stevenson will be a major drop off, especially against Florida's frontcourt. Guard Jodie Meeks is fourth on the team with 7.3 points per game.
Edge: Florida
Coaching Matchup
Tubby Smith's major goal will be to disrupt Florida's rhythm and create more of a half-court game. Smith did not start Morris against South Carolina for a "team violation." Morris responded with 17 points and eight rebounds off the bench. It could be a well-timed wake-up call going into a key game against Florida. Billy Donovan has his team rolling. The Gators have reeled off 15 consecutive wins and four in a row over Kentucky in a series once controlled by the Wildcats. Donovan would prefer to stick with his starting five, who are all averaging at least 10 points per game.
Edge: Florida

Prediction: Florida 80, Kentucky 75
Prediction record: 3-3

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