Yesterday, the Kentucky Wildcats went down to Gainesville and got trounced by the Florida Gators. This was pretty much as it should be — Florida has been an excellent team all season, and Kentucky has been, to put it mildly, a work in progress. Judging from yesterday's result, there is still quite a bit of work to be done, and whether or not any meaningful progress can be made in March is anyone's guess, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find a lot of optimism in the Big Blue Nation after yesterday's contest.
Really, Florida deserves all the credit for this win, not bad basketball by UK. The Gators executed extremely sharply, and Kentucky could neither consistently penetrate their defense nor stop their offense. Florida just played a high-quality game and that's all there is to it. They shot the ball well from every position on the floor, they moved the ball until they got good looks, and they played very well in transition. It isn't really so much that Kentucky played badly, but rather they were simply outclassed yesterday by a better team at the top of their form.
The Wildcats did some good things, but mostly, they did much the same thing they have done the past five games, with the exception of dominating the glass. The Wildcats were really not that bad against Florida compared to recent efforts — they shot reasonable percentages from everywhere but the free throw line (and they weren't horrible there, just below average). The Gators were just much better in most aspects, so if you are wanting to look at this as rock bottom, you will be disappointed. Emotionally, dear fan, you may find yourself in a dark place, but in all honesty, the team has played much worse recently.
Kentucky turned the ball over too much in this game, and it really cost them. With 10% rather than 20% turnovers, it's likely this game would have been much closer, but the result would still be a defeat. Florida was simply too good for Kentucky yesterday.
It would be easy to bemoan Kentucky's allowing Florida to have an eFG% of 69%, but we have to be honest here - Good offensive execution will always defeat good defensive execution, and while Kentucky's defense wasn't horrible, it wasn't nearly good enough.
Kentucky shot the ball well from three. It is my opinion that they simply didn't shoot enough of them, and that is probably as much a result of Florida's good defense and the UK preference to drive the ball into the lane than anything else.
Kentucky didn't shoot the ball badly, but they missed too many easy and wide open shots. Conversely, Florida made most of their open looks, and made it look easy.
Both teams rebounded the ball very well defensively. Kentucky won the rebounding battle, but they didn't dominate the boards.
Kentucky went to the line less than Florida, but not by that much. At home, on senior day, it's about what you'd expect.
I'm not nearly as down about the game after looking at the stats. You sometimes run into teams that are just too good for you on a given day. This appears to be the case. The worst things Kentucky did in this game is turn the ball over and miss open shots, but neither of those stats are particularly bad for this game — UK has won several games this season playing similarly, but they just could not stop Florida's sharp execution.
Kentucky played better yesterday than they did against Alabama, Arkansas, or South Carolina. It didn't look that way because Florida made them look bad by comparison — they were very hot and crisp, and when any team is like that, they can make a decent effort look like a meltdown.
Florida foolishly stopped double-teaming Randle in the second half, and it almost did them in. Randle went nuts, and Florida literally quailed. They almost waited too long to restore the double team, and Kentucky reacted very poorly when they did. Randle kept trying to score on the double-teams instead of getting the ball to open shooters, and that predictably didn't go well.
Kentucky took some really bad shots yesterday. They need to learn what a good shot looks like, and they don't have much time to do it. It's been a problem for them all season.
James Young had a nice line, but he was invisible in the second half and I thought this was his worst defensive performance of the year. He simply didn't guard well out there. Florida did a good job of locking Young down in the second half.
Patric Young killed both Kentucky's centers. It wasn't that Dakari and WCS didn't defend him well, they just couldn't stop him. When Young starts facing up and making 15 foot wing jumpers, you've just got to give him props.
Dakari played well, although only five rebonds in 20 minutes is not praiseworthy. If only Dakari was more reliable from the line, Kentucky would have done much better. He missed the lions share of the free throws, and had a couple of turnovers.
Alex Poythress worked very hard out there defensively. He was just okay offensively and missed two wide-open threes. If Kentucky is going to do anything at all in the tournament, they have to make open shots. Alex had a good game, though, and it's nice to see him rebound from the last one where he played poorly.
Julius Randle had another double-double, and when Florida stopped double-teaming him, he went off big time. If they hadn't returned to really quick double-teams, Randle might have won this game for us by himself. He only had 1 turnover, which is really good for him.
Andrew Harrison once again played the DDFH, driving into the lane, flinging it up and hoping for a foul or a putback. This kid is struggling with the game right now, and it's making him look really bad. He should never shoot more than 10 shots, and yesterday he put up 13, making a whopping three. He did have five assists against 2 turnovers, but he's really not a very good player right now.
Willie Cauley-Stein was passive. He didn't demand the ball, he didn' t defend particularly well, and he had as many turnovers as rebounds (3). Not his finest game.
Aaron Harrison didn't play bad, he just didn't get enough looks and turned down several clean ones. Three turnovers is too much for him. He also looked passive to me, but he did hold Michael Frazier II to only nine points.
Jarrod Polson played a few minutes and had an assist and a turnover. I didn't think Jarrod played particularly well yesterday.
Tying it all up
Upon reflection, what happened yesterday was less about Kentucky than it was about Florida. Good teams executing well can make average execution look really bad, and that's pretty much what happened yesterday. Kentucky can console themselves with the likely reality that few, and perhaps none, of the teams that they face going forward will execute that sharply on both sides of the ball.
Having said that, Kentucky keeps making the same mistakes. I counted at least four times when players abandoned their man on defense thinking it was somebody else's cover, which tells us that they still don't communicate well. During their impressive run, their offense fed their defense, which in turn fed the offense. It was a wonderful thing to watch, albeit far too brief and somewhat minimized by the subsequent return to inefficiency.
The best thing about this game is that it's over, and the post-season is now ready to begin. Kentucky has had a relatively fortunate draw in the SEC Tournament, which should give them an opportunity to get all the way to the final. I'd love to see the Wildcats play Florida again the the SEC Tournament finals just to see if Florida can repeat yesterday's performance at a neutral site. Plus, it will give Kentucky a chance going into the NCAA Tournament to develop some confidence if they managed to win one of three against the Gators.
I know that most of you have little hope for Kentucky moving forward, and I can't say I blame you. To me, though, this team is still capable of suddenly waking up and discovering that they are much better than they seem to think. No, it isn't likely, but when you get to this point in the season, hope is pretty much all you have if your team still hasn't showed itself to be a contender, and this Wildcats team most assuredly hasn't done so.