GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Lost in the moment of Nerlens Noel’s frightful knee injury was the fact that Kentucky looked lost the entire game in a 69-52 loss to No. 7 Florida on Tuesday night.
John Calipari instructs Archie Goodwin during UK's 69-52 loss at Floriday (Steven Johnson)
“Our young guys looked like deer in the headlights tonight,” coach John Calipari said. “It’s not what we wanted, but it’s a lesson.”
Kentucky was already in big trouble, facing a double-digit deficit for more than 15 minutes when Noel was injured with 8:03 remaining, so that didn’t determine the outcome. More exactly, it was 17 turnovers to just 11 assists allowing Florida to outscore UK 20-5 in points off turnovers.
“We just played soft, scared,” senior Julius Mays said. “Guys were just uptight, let pressure get to us.”
Calipari knew UK was in for a fight.
“First of all, they’re an outstanding basketball team. They were last year, they are this year,” Calipari said. “They’re well-coached, they’re talented, they’re very physical. Their guards are just jerking balls out of our guys’ hands. We couldn’t get near the basket on Patric Young. He just physically took away the rim. And they’re very active. They went with all kind of teams – small teams and all-guard teams and just came after us.”
Florida’s best brought out UK’s worst.
“We’re a team that when it’s not going good, you’ve got to have a really strong leadership where they come together, and we’re not there yet,” Calipari said. “We’ve done this more than once this year.”
Kentucky actually jumped on top of Florida, but the Gators ripped off three-pointers on three straight possessions and it was off to the races.
Willie Cauley-Stein had 10 points and 6 rebounds. (Steven Johnson)
“They got three in a row that broke open the game,” Calipari said. “It just drove me absolutely crazy because it was young kids not communicating and just losing a focus. You lose a focus in a game like this for a minute and a half, two minutes, the ballgame’s over.
“Every guy on our team had to be aggressive and our guard play had to be spotless, and it wasn’t,” Calipari said. “Just about anything we needed to do we didn’t to be able to give us a chance to win the game.”
Calipari also admitted Florida exposed some of Kentucky’s shortcomings, namely a lack of physical play.
“We need to go back and have more physical practices,” the coach said. “If the games are going to be played like this, we’ve got to be able to withstand it.”
But on the flipside, at least Calipari can show his team a perfect example of where they want to be – Florida.
“That’s where we’re trying to get this group, 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,” Calipari said. “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.”