Yeah, it's hard to beat a team four times. We get it. But Kentucky will face a Florida squad that hasn't lost in four months. What could change from the first three games? In their first meeting Feb. 15, the Wildcats actually looked like the Wildcats we've witnessed in the NCAA tourney. Kentucky was the better team for 30 minutes in that game. The Wildcats were fluid and effective. They were beating Florida inside and playing great defense. But the Gators have turned the final 10 minutes of those 30 consecutive wins into something artistic. They controlled the game when it counted most. Wilbekin drove to the lane and drew fouls. They owned the clock. The game was slipping away from the Wildcats and they didn't know how to get back into it without forcing shots. The second game was just a blowout and a bad night for a Kentucky team that quit. But the SEC tournament matchup, a 61-60 win for Florida, is probably what Monday's national title game will resemble.
In that game, Randle went just 1-for-7. He hasn't played that poorly since that day. Young's presence and strength -- and the collective strength and maturity of the entire Florida team -- will be the difference again. The Wildcats have been a strong 3-point shooting team in the NCAA tournament. But they were held to a 3-for-11 clip against the Gators in the conference tourney. Aaron Harrison has been a difference-maker in the NCAA tournament for Kentucky. Against Florida this season, he's 10-for-31 overall and 4-for-12 from beyond the arc.
With Young putting a big body on Randle and stopping him from bullying the Gators the way he's bullied every Kentucky opponent in the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats will struggle to get buckets inside, which means the Harrison twins and James Young will take more shots compared to what they've been accustomed to throughout the tourney. Kentucky reached the Final Four with balance. But Florida didn't allow the Wildcats to operate that way in their three previous matchups. On offense, the Gators will control the tempo and operate with the same patience they've used throughout this 30-game winning streak. They've attempted 74 total free throws against Kentucky thus far. If the Gators can get to the free throw line, limit turnovers, spread the offensive responsibilities and clamp down on defense inside, then Billy Donovan will secure his third national championship. But the Gators will need a big shot in the last 10 seconds to make it happen.
Prediction: Florida 66, Kentucky 63