GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WDRB) -- The score is little more than sidebar. Florida beat Kentucky 69-52 Tuesday night.
But the bigger loss may have happened with 8:03 to play when the Wildcats' fantastic freshman, Nerlens Noel, doing what he has done all season, hustling back to try to stop a fast break, landed awkwardly on his left leg before his knee crashed into the basket support.
Writing about basketball games, wins and losses, points and rebounds, is difficult after injuries like that.
Noel went to the court, screaming, grinding his head against the court. ESPN's cameras zoomed tight on his face. It must have been tough to watch. The older I get, the less I have a stomach to look. An injury to any player is difficult. But an injury to someone with Noel's promise and his future, frankly, is even more difficult to deal with.
I'm glad John Calipari said what he said after the game. Because I'm sure a lot of other people feel the same way, myself included.
"I'm physically sick right now for him," Calipari said.
These guys are more than players, they are people. They're not, as Calipari so often says, machines. After the game, Calipari gathered is team in the locker room and said a brief prayer.
Nobody knows Noel's condition. WDRB video shot by Steve Andress showed Noel's left knee appear to buckle to the inside. Another video, shot by Gainesville TV outlet GTN, shows the knee clearly appear to dislocate to the inside, and Noel reach down in an attempt to pop it back into place before falling.
UK confirmed Noel was taken to Shands Hospital in Gainesville. Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated said Noel was carted out of the arena in a wheelchair, a towel draped over his head.
Calipari said he expected Noel to return to Lexington with the team after being examined Tuesday night. An update from a UK spokesman at 10:30 p.m. said there was no further news, with none further expected Tuesday night.
Calipari went to Noel immediately when he fell and stayed beside him as he screamed. He lingered a little longer than he might over an in-game injury.
"He was yelling and screaming, that's why I stayed," Calipari said. "It's unfortunate, I just hope and pray that he's okay."
"I didn't see much," Calipari said of the injury. "It looked ugly. . . . What I'm hoping is it's not the extreme."
Florida center Patric Young told The Palm Beach Post: "His leg was wobbly, the knee looked dislocated. It was gruesome. I don't want to think about it."
And honestly, it's too early, before the injury or its severity is known, to think about what it means to this team. Noel is the center of this team in more than just position. He is its central personality and playmaker.
Billy Donovan said that through his energy, more even than his talent, Noel has earned wide respect among SEC coaches.
"I admire the way he plays and I admire his energy," Donovan said. ". . . If you think about it his injury came from a hustle play and it embodies who he is as a player."
Both before and after Noel's injury, UK as a team looked out of sync in this game. Afterward, a frustrated Julius Mays said his team played with "no togetherness."
But there was one moment of togetherness.
Unprompted, when it came time for Noel to try to get off the court, UK players rallied around him to carry him off as a group: Mays to his right, Archie Goodwin supporting his left, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein flanking them along with Kyle Wiltjer, all of them stopping as they reached the tunnel to huddle together.
You hope it's not the last time they'll huddle like that as a complete group.
"We're just going to pray for him and hope for the best," Wiltjer said. "He's a vital part of our team."
Copyright 2013 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.
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