In a game that Kentucky badly needed to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive, Willie Cauley-Stein blocked four shots and grabbed eight rebounds in a 61-57 Wildcat win over No. 11 Florida at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.
Kentucky’s work is not yet done, but it can breathe a sigh of relief for now.
This is the final game of the regular season, but it is Kentucky’s first signature win. In a weak SEC, the chance for a win like this does not often come around, and the Wildcats missed out on quality-win opportunities earlier in the year against Duke, Notre Dame, Baylor, Louisville, and Florida. Add that to back-to-back unpalatable losses to Arkansas and Georgia, and this win Saturday becomes even more important.
Kentucky has an RPI of 54 and SOS of 72. Saturday’s win over Florida is its first over a Top 50 RPI opponent after losing its previous four this season. As unimpressive as that may be, it puts it ahead of other SEC bubble teams, namely Alabama and Ole Miss. Alabama is 0-4 against the RPI Top 50 and Kentucky now pulls even with Ole Miss’ one win from that group, which was a win over Missouri.
And that’s where the SEC tournament comes into play. Kentucky needs to separate itself from the other SEC bubble teams by winning a few games to solidify a spot in the NCAAs and avoid the NIT. The win Saturday was a step in the right direction, but there is still work to be done.