Nerlens! - Al Messerschmidt
Florida easily defeats Kentucky in Gainesville with sharp execution and, frankly, very good basketball. But the big news isn't the lopsided loss, it's the apparent knee injury suffered by Nerlens Noel.
The Kentucky Wildcats went into Gainesville tonight with hopes of making a statement. They did, unfortunately -- that they are not good enough to challenge the Gators on their home court this year.
Congratulations to Florida for a very well-played game. They showed us all, as if we needed to see it again, why they have been ranked so highly this year. This Florida team is mature, well coached and talented, and they did a great job tonight against the Wildcats, who never seemed to be into the game after the first ten minutes.
I'm not going to say too much about the game itself. We've all seen these before, but not in a while. It was always just a matter of time before we saw one again. Just in case time, distance, and convenient memory have helped you to forget, even Adolph Rupp did not win every game he coached, and even the Baron suffered embarrassing blowout losses This probably qualifies less as a blowout than embarrassing, because Kentucky fans don't expect to ever lose, even to a team that is superior on paper.
But lose we did tonight, and convincingly. The team looked completely overmatched and juvenile, almost as if this were the early season instead of midway through February. Kentucky turned the ball over constantly against Gator pressure, and not all the heart in the world could make up for the lack of experience of Jarrod Polson, or the lack of confidence of Ryan Harrow. But they weren't by any means the reason Kentucky lost, because most of the turnovers belonged to Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress, and Nerlens Noel.
In the end, and there is no delicate way to put this, we just got beat by a much better team. That's all there is, there is no way to soften the blow or make excuses. Florida won this game with ease, and Kentucky was never much of a threat. There it is, the unvarnished truth. Can you handle it, Big Blue Nation? I know I can.
Now we get to the hard part. But first, I want you to read this:
UK fans, yes I see the jerks (mostly high school kids) making Noel injury jokes. Ignore them. Most have been classy so screw the trolls— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) February 13, 2013
Read that, and make it part of you. There were jerks in the Florida crowd that said bad things. You will read tweets about them, and others will blog about them. But the truth is, the Gator fans were much classier than the horror stories you will hear from those interested in agitating discontent and hatred. Ignore them, and listen to that part of yourself that knows most sports fans of good will would never cheer an injury, or welcome a player unable to ply his craft. You know, in your heart, that this stuff is nonsense. So do me a favor -- if you are inclined to disparage Florida fans here, don't.
You should also see this:
All the best to UK's Nerlens Noel after the injury at Florida. Here's hoping that he's okay and 100% soon. Stay strong, No. 3!!— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) February 13, 2013
Also, some may try to convince you that Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News made a disparaging comment about Kentucky and Noel. He did not. He was talking about Villanova, not Kentucky. Don't let the liars tell you otherwise, or the tinfoil hat brigade whisper their conspiracy theories into your collective ears. DeCourcy is 100% pure, unadulterated class, and anyone who doubts that is a fool, and you'd do well to keep that to yourself on this blog.
Now, to the really bad news.
Here is an opinion based on an unfortunate amount of medical and physiological understanding due to a misspent college career, as well as some reports from people who were there, in person. Nerlens Noel is almost surely lost for the season. There is always hope that I could be wrong, and I promise you, I have prayed to God more than once tonight that I am. But prepare yourselves for bad news.
In the unfortunate event that my educated guess is correct, the season will not stop. Opponents will not be canceling games because Noel is injured. Season ticket refunds will not be offered. Rupp Arena will still be packed with 23,000+ for every game. In short, life will go on. But we will not forget.
No matter what the ultimate outcome for Nerlens, Kentucky now has to face the prospect of the rest of the season without him, at least until my fears are (Please, God) found groundless. The impact Noel had on this team cannot be replaced. All you had to do was watch Willie Cauley-Stein struggle in the second half defensively to see that. Noel is a special, seminal talent. WCS is just a solid young player, at least right now.
This isn't the end, no matter what. It's just a loss, and this is just a game. Yes, we love it, and yes, we are passionate about it. Right now, though, our team needs the support that only a passionate, compassionate, and unflinching fan base can provide.
So I challenge you -- provide it now. Prove, once again, your great worth. Not to me, not to Coach Cal, not to the team, not to the media and not to Nerlens -- But to yourselves, and to all that we represent. To all that we are, and have been, for over a century.
We are UK. We are the Big Blue Nation. Come good, come ill, come the Apocalypse, we will all ways be true, we will always bleed blue, and we own this damn sport. Maybe not at this precise moment in time, but in the end, we are what the other fan bases in this country wish they were. So live up to your legacy, for we are unique among fans -- for good, or for ill, but mostly, for great. Because greatness is what this program is the archetype of.