The Kentucky Wildcats fell to the Florida Gators last night in Rupp Arena, the first loss of the season at home for Kentucky and only the third loss in Lexington since John Calipari has coached the Wildcats. This was obviously a big game for both Kentucky and Florida; Kentucky because they needed a résumé-building win, and Florida because they needed to validate their undefeated SEC season so far. This one goes to the Gators.
Congratulations to Florida for gutting out a tough game in a hostile environment. Florida has some issues that Kentucky exposed yesterday, but every team has those, especially this season. But the Gators hung in there and gave themselves a chance to win, even when Kentucky pushed their advantage out to near double-digits in the second half. Florida worked their way back and, in the end, wound up winning fairly comfortably after Kentucky failed to take advantage of opportunities and had to foul Florida.
Let's get right to the stats, courtesy of KenPom.com:
Kentucky notably did not win the rebounding battle, it was a push. It is very, very important to Kentucky's success that they win the rebounding battle, particularly on the offensive glass. It is a major contributor to their offensive efficiency.
Free throws were a problem for Kentucky in this game. Despite having some of their better free throw shooters spending the most time at the line, the Wildcats shot well below their season average, while Florida shot well above theirs. That accounts for about 5 points of the difference. It was a factor in the loss, but not the reason.
Kentucky shot well from 3, and Florida shot poorly. Normally, I'd think that would lead to a Kentucky win, but not this time.
A glance at the four factors show you how Kentucky lost. Kentucky was defensively inefficient, yielding nearly 1.2 points per possession, but that is deceiving, and I'll get to that shortly. Turnovers were the big problem.
Rebounding was a draw. Turnovers were not — if you want to point to one single factor that got Kentucky beat, it was turnovers. Turnovers have not been a problem for UK for most of this year, but last night, they were.
I thought the UK offense sputtered a lot, and we have seen this over and over lately. At this point in the season, you would think that wouldn't happen, but it happens with some consistency now. I attribute that to coaching as much as anything else. Calipari doesn't seem to have figured out exactly what to do with this team, or if he has, he has had trouble communicating it to them.
To win games like this one, Kentucky needs to be more confident offensively. I thought that was lacking yesterday.
Late in games, Kentucky is prone to surrendering offensive rebounds. That's a really bad trend, and two of them stand out in last night's game as particularly problematic — the one that led to a Michael Frazier II 3-pointer with 4:16 left, and the Casey Prather offensive rebound in a crowd of Wildcats with 1:27 left.
The defense had a reasonably good night. It looks bad on paper, but a lot of the boost in efficiency for Florida was getting fouled and making free throws late in the game. If the Wildcats had been able to force shots instead of fouls, this game might well have been a victory.
Calipari's technical was the inflection point of the game. It destroyed Kentucky's rhythm and gave Florida a lead they would never relinquish. The speculation we have heard so far is that Calipari was called for being out of the coach's box, and certainly, Calipari has been out of it quite a bit so far this season. If that was it, all I can say it that it was a tough break for Kentucky. Calipari has a responsibility to ensure that doesn't happen, and I assume he was warned about it before the foul was assessed. In any event, to my eyes, it was the event that changed the trajectory of the game. There is also some statistical support for that position.
Notwithstanding the technical, the Wildcats have to learn how to play through those kinds of external events. In my opinion, they weren't able to do so.
Transition defense, which has been a particular problem at times this season, wasn't last night. Kentucky gave up maybe one or two baskets in transition, and got at least that many themselves. Overall, this is a problem that seems to have been adequately addressed, although the same cannot be said of blocking out, which really broke down a number of times against the Gators.
The Florida press was a non-factor against Kentucky. Virtually all of UK's turnovers came in the half court. Notably, Kentucky did not press Florida one time.
I don't give game balls for losses. If I did, I think Julius Randle would get it. He showed me a lot last night, and his turnovers seem to be getting lower and lower. He made some nice passes, got another double-double including 4 OR's and two assists. He had a good game, and his play was one of the bright spots, although he still holds the ball too long.
Andrew Harrison had a very good game, but he turned the ball over too much. I don't get caught up too much by his scoring, although I thought he was properly aggressive and it was a really good thing.
Aaron Harrison was simply invisible offensively, but I credit his defense for holding Frazier to only three points on 1-4 shooting. I think that's why Calipari gave him 35 minutes.
James Young scored well, and we needed that, but he was a turnover machine with 5. That's no good for a wing. You expect big men and point guards to turn the ball over like that once in a while, but not wings. With that said, it was good to see him playing with confidence, and Florida had no answer for him.
Dakari Johnson really worked hard, but he had a lot of trouble with Florida's quicker players. This is something Dakari has to work on in the off season, assuming he stays. Two rebounds out of your 7'0" 270 lb. center is not any good.
Willie Cauley-Stein really didn't play very well. He just isn't aggressive enough offensively, he wasn't able to rebound the ball, and his timing was off on shot-blocking all night. Two rebounds. 'Nuff said.
Alex Pothress barely impacted the statistics in 11 minutes. I guess he gets a pass, he's been great lately and everyone has an off game.
Jarrod Polson had a lot of difficulty with Florida's quickness. Hence, he didn't see many minutes.
Dominque Hawkins got in the game, but his consistent absence continues to puzzle.
I'll have another post in a little while about what this game means. For now, we're sticking to straight analysis, and as a basketball game, this wasn't a bad one by Kentucky, it just wasn't good enough. Kentucky fans have seen enough basketball to know that you can play pretty well in a game and still lose, and that's what happened last night. The Wildcats were just beaten by a team that played better, and that's going to happen every year.
This isn't the end for Kentucky. It hurts, but there is plenty of basketball left to play, including at least one more shot at the Gators in Gainesville. I know most of you will not feel confident about that game, and you shouldn't, but it's what we have. The most important thing now is for UK to take care of the rest of their business before then. That will be plenty tough enough.