Right now, Kentucky basketball fans everywhere are asking, “Why? Why Nerlens Noel? Why him?” He has been the heart and soul of the Wildcats this season, a consensus top three NBA Draft pick, and one of the best and most kindhearted personalities to come through the UK basketball program in a long time. WHY did it have to happen to him? I mean, you never want to see any player go down with a knee injury, but we can all admit, it hurts a little more to see it happen to Nerlens Noel. And that has absolutely nothing to do with a concern for UK’s remaining basketball games, NCAA Tournament seeding, or a potential trip to the NIT, either. None of that matters. The 2012-13 college basketball season is irrelevant to Big Blue Nation right now. Our worry is with Nerlens Noel, an 18-year-old kid, and his future playing on the basketball court.
In case you missed it, or maybe you’re still in denial, Nerlens Noel landed awkwardly against the goal after chasing down Mike Rosario to block his layup on a breakaway in the second half. Noel’s left knee collided with the padding of the goal and he immediately went down, grasping his left leg in agony. ESPN’s cameras captured the screams and excruciating look of pain on Nerlens’ face as UK’s trainers, coaches and teammates huddled around him in shock and disbelief.
Ugh, it makes me sick thinking back to it.
The cameraman’s face says it all. (AP Photo)
Nerlens underwent tests at University of Florida’s Shands Hospital and then returned to Lexington with his teammates, according to a release from UK Athletics.
We won’t know anything else until the morning.
It’s all meaningless now, but let’s at least acknowledge that we cared about a basketball game before Nerlens went down. A few brief notes…
— Kentucky needed good guard play if it was going to have any chance of hanging with the seventh-ranked Gators, but the backcourt was far from good on Tuesday night. Ryan Harrow had another disappointing night at the point when his team needed him most. He went 0-for-3 from the field with one assist, one rebound, and two turnovers, but it was his poor defense and timidness that was so detrimental to the game. Harrow wasn’t ready for the challenge from the start and it didn’t take long for Calipari to catch on and invite him over for a seat on the bench. Harrow only played 19 minutes in the game, his lowest total since returning from the mysterious hiatus to start the season.
— As ineffective as Harrow was, Archie Goodwin, the other player Kentucky needed to heavily rely on, wasn’t much better. In the game he said he was “made for,” Archie Goodwin had two Archie Goodwin moments right out of the gate that cost the Cats early momentum. After Kentucky jumped out to a 4-0 lead early, Goodwin came up with a steal but lowered his head on the break and selfishly took it to the basket when UK had a 3-on-1 situation. Goodwin’s erratic layup attempt was blocked by Patrick Young on the play. Kentucky would keep possession, only to see Archie commit an offensive foul on the next play. Florida responded with an 8-0 run and never looked back. Goodwin went on to finish with eight points and four fouls, all offensive.
— When Julius Mays and Willie Cauley-Stein are the only two Wildcats in double-figures, you know the outcome isn’t the one we hoped for. Kentucky can’t win, especially on the road against the SEC’s best team, with five points from Alex Poythress, seven from Kyle Wiltjer and eight from Archie Goodwin. That’s a loss every single time. Games aren’t won with Mays and Cauley-Stein leading the way with 10 points each.
— Calipari said his team had a great plan coming in, but the players lost concentration early. Florida played better; Florida was more physical; Florida came up with loose balls; and Florida outmanned the Wildcats for 40 minutes. It was really a horrendous showing from UK.
— Dick Vitale said it best during the telecast: “UK fans better face reality that this is just a good basketball team, limited in many areas.” It is what it is. We just need to accept that greatness is unachievable this season.
— Though it seemed like the game was a complete rout, and I guess it was, there was a glimmer of hope for a comeback with just under nine minutes to go in a 12-point game. Kentucky was on a small run when Julius Mays came up with a steal and pushed it up the court to continue cutting down on that Florida lead. Instead, Archie Goodwin airballed a wide open three-pointer; followed by a missed layup by Alex Poythress on the putback; and then an offensive foul on Goodwin. That single play had a little bit for everyone who’s ever been frustrated with Goodwin and Poythress. Oh, and Florida stretched it back out to 18 immediately after.
— Speaking of Alex Poythress, how does he continue to step on the baseline? It was a joke for a while, but the joke won’t end. It seems like he steps out of bounds on a baseline drive in every game. Someone check his high school court to make sure it’s regulation size.
— For Florida, it was a balanced attack offensively as they took advantage of Kentucky’s inability to stop penetration. Calipari’s game plan was to get out on the shooters and prevent them from getting hot from deep, and it worked for the most part — outside of the breakdown that allowed three consecutive Florida three-pointers late in the first half. The Gators averaged almost 11 three-pointers per game before Tuesday night and UK held them to six in the game. The problem is the Cats were unable to defend anywhere else. They got killed off the dribble all night long.
— Kentucky’s young team could stand to learn a thing or two from Florida’s toughness and physicality. Cal acknowledged that after the game in his press conference. “That’s where we’re trying to get this group,” he said of Florida. “That every guy will be aggressive, got to be tough play through bumps, understand if the game is going to be a rough game, you’ve got to play it. You can’t just give up on the game. If they’re jerking balls out of your hands, jerk balls out of their hands. If they’re being physical in the post, you be physical in the post. It’s something we’re just learning.”
Okay, I can’t pretend to care about the game any longer. I’m sure you feel the same way. My mind is racing through possible scenarios for Nerlens Noel as I constantly refresh Twitter, hoping for some positive rumor or sign that he’ll bounce back soon.
Again, UK announced that there won’t be any further updates tonight, so we won’t know the severity of the injury until Wednesday morning at the very earliest. Get some sleep and keep Nerlens Noel in your thoughts and prayers until then.