The #23 Kentucky Wildcats were just handed a tough loss against the Florida Gators, who have been playing some tough basketball this season.
Although the Gators are unranked, they have beaten multiple AP top 25 teams this year. This was the last game of the season for the Wildcats before tournament time, and it did not go according to plan.
Losing by a total of 13 points (80-67), the Cats have some work to do if they want to go far in the NCAA Tournament or even the SEC Tournament.
This was Senior Night for the Gators, and unlike Kentucky, they actually had some to play. They showed out for their seniors and played with intensity all throughout the game. They were making every contested shot, and Kentucky had no answer for it.
Most of us were hoping that the Cats and Coach Cal could figure it out at the half, but no game plan could stop the heat the Gators kept on cooking with. They didn't miss a shot until the 14-minute mark, going 6-6 from the field.
While it didn't help having Doug Show wear the stripes today the Cats did this to themselves. Florida was forcing turnovers on the Cats left and right. Kentucky gave the Gators 14 points off of nine TOs. With a team like Florida who shoots the ball so well, you can’t afford to give them so many chances.
It truthfully boiled down to the Cats not being able to compete against a team with this much skill and experience. If it weren’t for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander this loss would’ve been much worse than it was. He was the MVP for the Cats and we need his play to rub off on our other starters if we want to get far in the Tournament.
Let’s take a look at what Coach Cal had to say after the game, courtesy of UK Athletics:
On how much 50-50 balls were a factor …
”There was a lot of stuff. First of all, we put ourselves in a deep hole and, second of all, we didn’t pass today. I don’t have any idea why we didn’t pass the ball to each other. If you have two guys on you – even you guys could figure this out – somebody is open. So if you have two guys on you, throw it to somebody. Even if you just get rid of it so that that guy can find an open man.
”We reverted. This is how we played a month ago. And so now you end up with six assists, 13 turn(overs). Come on. You can’t win that way. Give Florida credit. They came out and made those shots in the first half and created a gap. The play for us was we rebound the ball and throw it away to it our point guard versus just hold the ball. It was still a winnable game at that point. We foul, they make two, we miss, they make another and all of a sudden I gotta use my last timeout just to see if we can win the game. We had our chances, but we’re still learning.
What I was really, really happy for was Wenyen (Gabriel). Wenyen was so bad in the first half, so scared, and all I’ve been talking about to these guys is, ‘You have to conquer yourself before you can conquer someone else.’ And what he did in the second half showed me he conquered himself. Literally, he couldn’t speak in the first half and then he came out—and I told him at halftime, ‘You either get this and you’re going to change it.’ And he came out—I told him after I was so proud of him. But, again, you’re not going to win if you don’t pass to each other, if you don’t get each other shots. And everything was, let me—just didn’t do it. And again, this is a young team. Last regular-season game, now the real stuff starts.”
On not getting the ball to Quade Green after he started hot …
”No, it wasn’t. It was Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) as much as anybody. And then Quade did it too. Like, he went into a pick-and-roll and two guys played him and he went three more dribbles. You got two guys on you. Just get rid of it. It doesn’t matter who you throw it to. You won’t believe this, if I throw it to him, he will see who’s open and he’s going to throw it to the guy that’s open. We just didn’t do it. And again, Shai didn’t play well today. And I know you’ll say, ‘Well, he scored some points,’ and all that, but he did not play well today and if he doesn’t play well it is tough on the rest of these guys, because they’re counting on him to make the right plays and he didn’t today. But, look, the kid has had an unbelievable season. This team has had an unbelievable season. What we were up against and losing some games and coming back and the toughest part of our schedule we go 4-1. The toughest part of our schedule we go 4-1 at the end of the year and look like we figured it out, but I kept telling everybody you just don’t know with young kids. They’ll revert in a minute. They’ll revert. Hami (Diallo), I tried to get him to drive those last couple balls. ‘Don’t keep shooting 3s. Drive it.’ ‘Well there’s only a minute left.’ ‘Drive it! Get yourself going and understand who you are as a player.’ But, again, the foul trouble hurt us a little bit, but, you know, they deserved to win. They really did. Hats off to them. They’ve had a heck of a year too. They lost a bunch in a row and all of a sudden they come back and beat Auburn here and go on the road and win and not only win. They spanked Alabama and they spanked us today. So they got their stuff working now too.”
On seeing defensive slippage against Ole Miss …
”Yeah. I saw it. I saw it. And here’s a team that they shoot 50 percent against us and make 10 3s. I could see we weren’t connected to that game and you think you’re better than you are and the way you play is you’re in a dogfight and you’re going to play harder than the other guys. We didn’t do it against Mississippi. We didn’t do it today. Now, we got a couple days to get regrouped before we go this weekend to St. Louis and let’s see if we can get it right. But if we play this way, you’re not winning. You won’t win.”
On the team backsliding …
”We reverted today. Didn’t pass the ball. Now all of a sudden, we’ve had five guys in double figures for three games, four games. You ready? Now all of a sudden we’re doing this and you barely get four. Two guys get 11 and that was at the end of the game. This hopefully wakes us up and we go. But, again, I told them, ‘Learn from it. You’re young. Competitive spirit. If you don’t have a competitive spirit, you will not advance in this game. You’re not going to continue to play this game. You either have a competitive spirit and you fight and you go after and you play to win or there’s no one that wants you on their team. Because it’s not about shooting balls and fade-aways. It’s a competitive spirit and we’re trying to bring it out of some of our guys and get them out of worried about how they’re playing and worry how we’re playing, but it’s a process. It’s never-ending and it won’t end this year until it ends.”
On Florida’s 3-point shooting changing their game plan …
”It wasn’t that they were shooting 3s. We could not guard anybody. They were shooting lobs, dunks, layups. So we went to the zone. So the first time we go to the zone our guard doesn’t bump our forward back and they’re standing in the corner with no one on them and a kid makes a 3. That’s the kind of breakdowns we had today. Then we got to where we were bumping and moving and made it hard and we got back in the game. Then we threw the ball away and that was the game. We fought. We kept fighting, but you’re down—did we go down 23? And we were still playing to win. I didn’t even look up. I knew it was a lot. I refuse to look up when it’s that many. So I’m just trying to say, ‘Let’s get back in this.’ And we did. We got back in it.”
On the potential of playing on Thursday in the SEC Tournament …
”If we play on Thursday, it’s fine. I don’t really care. You know I can’t stand tournaments anyway. I’m not a big proponent of playing three and four days in a row at the end of the year. We already have a league champ or will have one. What are we doing this for? So that’s me. But our fans at Kentucky love this tournament. They love it, so we go and try to play as well as we can for our fans but the only thing we’ll use this weekend us for the next weekend. That’s it. I’m not a big conference tournament guy. Never have been. Never was at UMass and I never was at Memphis. The next tournament is the real one.”