(Photo © Kim Klement)
For about five minutes, it looked possible. Kentucky came to life at the 17 minute mark in the second half, going on a 15-0 run to cut it to as close as 6 with 12 minutes left. From there, they tried to keep it respectable, but Florida was just too good, powering past the Cats to win by 19, the second-largest margin of defeat of the Calipari era.
Five minutes of life
I won’t even bother going over the first half. It sucked. Kentucky played the same lifeless, timid basketball they have the past three games, and during halftime, I think a good chunk of fans didn’t think they’d get off the mat. However, they did, cutting a 21-point deficit to six with 12:25 remaining.
What was the key to the run? While I choose to believe it was GIFs of cats wearing socks and bacon, Calipari said it started with Alex Poythress’ defense. “If Alex wasn’t in the game, we could have lost by 50.” In those five minutes, Kentucky held #1 Florida scoreless, and dare I say it, it looked like the light had gone on. However, after a timeout, Scotty Wilbekin nailed a three and even though the Cats hung in there for about ten more minutes, Florida responded to every challenge. That’s what good teams do.
Florida really is just that good
Coming into to this game, I was a little skeptical that Florida was capable of winning the national championship. After seeing them dismantle Kentucky today, I am completely convinced. On Senior Day, with the SEC rival in the house, Florida did what an excellent team does: rise to the occasion. Seniors Patric Young, Casey Prather, and Scottie Wilbikin combined for 46 points, and although it sounds a bit sad, I think this Kentucky team should have a small bit of pride in holding them scoreless for five minutes. Unfortunately, the first half was “embarrassing” (Cal’s words and mine), and ultimately, Kentucky dug themselves a hole too big to get out of.
Dakari will start from now on
The only leader this team has right now is Dakari Johnson, and he didn’t even start the game. That will change. After the game, Cal said that from now on, Dakari will start because “he’s the one kid who has fun and plays that way.” Dakari had nine points and five rebounds in 20 minutes this afternoon, and helped spark that big run with both points and emotion. At this rate, I’d take a team full of Dakari’s, even if the guard play and foul shooting would suck.
After hurting his knee, Julius went to work
Towards the end of the first half, a scoreless Julius Randle went down with what appeared to be a knee injury, but after being tended to on the sideline, went back in and actually went to work. Julius finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, his 18th double-double of the season, and played with purpose, kicking it out when he needed to, and cleaning up around the rim. I’m not sure what happened when Julius jammed that knee, but it worked. For Kentucky to have any kind of shot at anything, they need more of that.
Is that run enough to save a season?
A question many of us are asking after today’s game is whether or not Kentucky’s five minutes of life was enough to save the season. Was the fight that they showed enough to keep you believing? I think most of us leave the game feeling about the same as before: doubtful, but desperately optimistic. However, the players say they still believe:
“We’ve got to get this thing. We don’t know what we’ve got to do but we’ve got to get going,” Julius told reporters after the game, “As guys in the locker room we all still believe, but there’s a point where, you know, we have to put it into action and I still think we will.”
“I know a lot of people don’t believe that we can do it right now, but it’s on us right now,” Dakari added. “We just have to believe. If we believe that’s all that matters.”
Calipari was proud of his team for fighting back, but seemed discouraged that it was all for moot. Cal said the Cats killed themselves in the first half, and even though they played great for “five, ten” minutes in the second half, they made some really poor decisions down the stretch: “You’ve got your chance and we come down and then all of a sudden, take two of the worst shots we’ve taken all year. But that’s what freshmen do,” Cal lamented. “It’s time to win now. With eight minutes left, you just don’t take those kind of shots.”
For this team, Cal admits the SEC Tournament is important
It’s no secret Cal is not a fan of conference tournaments. In years past, his teams have been good enough that they’ve only mattered for seeding. However, after the game, Cal admitted that this season, it’s important for many reasons, the biggest being confidence:
“For this team it’s important (because) we got to get the mojo going a little bit and we got to do it there. Historically my teams have done well in tournaments but we just have to see.”
To be continued…