Kentucky’s Saturday loss at Florida wasn’t all that surprising. Florida always plays Kentucky well in Gainesville, plus the Gators had already beaten the Cats in Lexington earlier in the season, so expectations weren’t particularly high going into the game. But how Kentucky lost at Florida was very disappointing, considering how well the Cats looked the last two weeks.
Florida led for all but 57 seconds of the game, and by as many as 23 points in the second half. That’s a butt-kicking, and the butts were kicked at a time when John Calipari’s team needed to close its regular season on a high note. A good Kentucky team should never be down 23 to any team, even on its worst day. It certainly shouldn’t happen when things were looking up for the squad on the final Saturday before the postseason.
It was even more disappointing that Florida didn’t play a great second half, yet Kentucky still couldn’t do anything when the door swung wide open for a potential comeback. The Gators went eight minutes without a made basket in the second half, but you wouldn’t know it if you only saw the final score.
So where did things go wrong for the Cats? It’d be easier to list what went right, but we’ll try. For starters, the one obvious advantage going into the game was Kentucky’s rebounding, but Florida hung right with them on the glass. Then there’s the free throw woes; Kentucky hit only 13 of its 22 attempts for a 59 percent clip from the stripe. It’s hard to win any game shooting 59 percent from the line.
Three-point shooting was also bad, not counting Quade Green’s perfect 3-for-3 afternoon from outside. Hamidou Diallo had three horrible misses in three tries (I couldn’t help but laugh when he posed as he air-balled one) while Kevin Knox hit only one of his five attempts. Collectively, UK went 6-of-18, with Green hitting half of the team’s made threes.
It didn’t help that some players had pretty bad individual performances with little to no contributions whatsoever. Diallo and Nick Richards — bless their hearts — are the two players who fall into this category. Diallo was 0-for-7 from the field with several wide open looks, and Richards continued his ongoing struggles. Wenyen Gabriel should also fall into the category, although he did sink a three-pointer, so there’s that, I guess. Calipari was very critical of him in the postgame interview.
Moving on down the line, Kevin Knox was okay but needed to do more, which has been the consistent theme in UK’s losses this season. Fair or not (and it’s probably not), he’s the one guy who has to bring it every time out. If he struggles, the team struggles. Today was no different.
Lastly, the backcourt of Green and Gilgeous-Alexander made some plays and combined for 28 of UK’s points; however, Gilgeous-Alexander’s five turnovers took away from his team-high 17 points.
With all that said, this is a game we should throw out as a bad performance and move on. It shouldn’t reflect poorly on the progress this team has made and the potential of making a run in the weeks ahead. Kentucky reminded me of the Kentucky team during the four-game losing skid, back when the offense was out of sync and certain individuals just couldn’t do anything right. The assist column also resembles those sadder times; Kentucky had only six on Saturday.
We should call it what it was: a bad game.
Until we know Kentucky’s seed in the SEC tournament, we’ll have to put the conversation about UK’s chances and path to the trophy on hold. But if Kentucky can earn the double-bye and the No. 4 seed (which would mean Missouri beat Arkansas in the 6 pm game), I like Kentucky’s chances as much as anyone’s in St. Louis.
The obvious and strong counterargument to that is Kentucky went 0-for-5 against the top three seeds in the regular season, but the addition of Vanderbilt and the backcourt of Green and Gilgeous-Alexander has the team playing its best basketball these past few weeks; Gainesville not included. On a neutral court with Big Blue Nation dominating the Scottrade Center crowd, Kentucky can beat any of those three teams. Not to mention, Auburn is down one of its key players for the rest of the year, and there’s an old saying that you can’t beat a team three times in one season. Tennessee and Florida would have to do that, should they meet the Cats again in the tournament.
Of course, we also have to acknowledge the worst case scenario, too. Say Arkansas beats Missouri and Kentucky falls to the No. 5 seed, it’s hard to imagine UK’s young and inconsistent team winning four straight games in four days. Even worse: the 12/13 seed could send Kentucky home on Thursday if Kentucky plays poorly and has one of those five-minute scoring droughts from the past, which always resulted in a loss.
We have plenty of time to dissect the tournament in the days ahead, but it’s lining up to be an exciting event with the best basketball its had in years. For Kentucky, the postseason is full of unknowns, but the Cats can do something special if they play their best basketball, which we’ve already seen in small glimpses. As much as we want to debate the team’s tournament ceiling right now, we won’t truly know anything until we see which team shows up when the ball is tipped in the first game — hopefully on Friday.