GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WDRB) -- The main lights that switched on were warning lights.
What you wanted today, if you're a University of Kentucky coach or player, was to find some progress, something that you can fan into momentum in the postseason.
But after Florida piled up its largest-ever winning margin in a win over Kentucky, 84-65 on Senior Day in the O-Dome, signs of light are pretty slim.
I say signs of light, because Wildcats coach John Calipari keeps talking about needing "the light to switch on" for this team. The problem is, he's the one who has to throw the switch. And it doesn't sound like he has much idea for what exactly will get that done.
His players, as a result, don't seem to know, either. Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson were the two Wildcats selected to meet the media after the game. I watched them walk down the corridor of the O'Connell Center on their way to the press conference. They walked slowly, not talking to each other. At different times, each seemed to walk with his shoulder brushing the wall. It wasn't an energetic trip, and you wouldn't expect it after a loss like that. But this team seems at times to have the same body language. Too slow. Not charging in to meet challenges, but passively enduring them.
After the game, Randle said this: "We've got to get this thing going. We don't know what we have to do, but we have to get it going."
If they don't know what they have to do at this point, you have to question whether anyone has an idea on how to turn this thing in a different direction.
The problem is, it's still a team with talent. Example: After taking a 21-point deficit to halftime (despite Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin on the bench with foul trouble most of the half), this team dominated the early part of the second half. It did. It pushed around the nation's No. 1-ranked team on its home court, went on a 19-4 run, including 15 straight, to take its deficit to six.
Then, Calipari said, it took "two of the worst shots of the season." I don't know if they were that bad, but they weren't perfect. And sometimes, if you want to threaten a team like Florida at home, you have to be darn close to it.
After UK cut Florida's lead to six, Wilbiken, a senior point guard, drilled a three to push the Gators' lead back to nine. Then some bad shots. An Alex Poythress missed three. Missed jumpers by Andrew Harrison and James Young.
Florida built its margin back to double-digits, but still UK had Young at the line with a chance to cut its deficit back to 11 points at the under-four timeout. Time for one-last mad dash.
Young made one of two free throws, and then came the game's most troubling decision. Down 12 and the clock ticking with under four to play, off the missed free throw, instead of getting into a half-court trap, or even an aggressive man-to-man that would put pressure on the ball and force Florida to speed up, the Wildcats hit the brakes.
They fell back into a 2-3 zone. Wilbekin looked at it for a while, under no duress as he dribbled the ball. The Gators ran some clock, then hit center Patric Young in the middle of the lane for an open jump hook that put them up 14 with 3:27 left. After another missed three by Poythress, Florida came down again, looked at the zone, passed it around, then Wilbekin drilled a three from the right wing.
Game over. Florida was allowed to run a minute off the clock, got two uncontested shots, and UK never had a chance in the closing stages.
At a time when it needed to hurry up, UK slowed down. Maybe it wouldn't have made a difference. But the Wildcats didn't even have a chance to see.
"No. 1 team in the country, at home on Senior Night, and a team that came out a little timid. You're going to be down 20, 25 points. Unfortunate, but they are that good and if you don't come and play, you're going to get smashed," Calipari said. "And then in the second half, they took the fight to them a little bit, we had a game of it, and then all of a sudden we take two of the worst shots all season we've taken. Like, you've got to be kidding me. But that's what freshmen do."
UK's best stretch of offense came when it jammed the ball into one of those freshmen -- Randle -- and he scored. He didn't make great decisions on the whole, but his scoring kick-started the Cats. They forced some Florida turnovers. They got the game into transition. Florida seemed flat powerless when UK was making its run. Still, the Gators never seemed out of control. They didn't panic. They stayed together, kept talking, kept communicating.
"What I'm proud of is they didn't give up on the game," Calipari said of his players. "They gave themselves a chance to win. Again, now, you have to understand that team is really good. And their execution of their stuff, naturally, being seniors, is going to be better than us. So they get better opportunities, which they did. That team shot 60 percent and 60 from the three; that doesn't happen to us. As young as we are, that doesn't happen. And that was what they did to us, not what we were."
But I'm not sure any of us knows what this UK team is, except for 22-9, and losers of four of their last seven games of the regular season, two of those at home.
It's a team that badly needs steals and transition basketball to fuel any run it might make. But I sure haven't heard those things discussed by its coaches, or even players. There's a lot of talk about offensive execution. There's not much about pressuring the ball, or playing with abandon on defense, or getting deflections and steals.
Calipari said that the SEC Tournament now gives his team a chance to reboot. The bigger question now is, does he know which buttons to push with this group when it does.
"Let me just say this," Calipari said. "My whole vision of this team is we're going to get it and it'll start this week when we're in our (SEC) tournament. Let's start down there. Let's do what we're doing 10 minutes in a game, 12 minutes, let's do it for 40 minutes. Let's all commit to it."
Forty minutes. That's a long way from 40-0. At the beginning of Saturday's game, Florida fans held signs that read, "40-0? What happened?" At the end, they were handing each other handmade signs that said, "18-0." Florida became the first SEC team ever to go 18-0.
Kentucky's loss wasn't the worst of the day. Kansas lost at West Virginia. Connecticut, which was ranked even higher than UK, lost by even more at Louisville. But the way Florida turned that second-half run back around on the Wildcats makes it tough to turn into postseason momentum.
Some interesting stats: Florida's four seniors scored 51. The five UK freshmen who played scored 57. UK's freshmen outrebounded Florida's four seniors 22-20. They had 10 assists to the Florida seniors' seven. They had 10 turnovers to the Florida seniors' seven.
The bottom line is this. UK's problem isn't just freshmen. It's beyond freshmen. All of this shouldn't fall on the shoulders of the freshmen.
This team doesn't understand what it needs to do to win.
The postseason is a difficult time to figure that out, but Calipari is still flipping switches.
Saturday, August 30 2014 3:51 PM EDT2014-08-30 19:51:46 GMT
The University of Kentucky football team got some big plays from young players and a steady start from quarterback Patrick Towles to pound Tennessee-Martin 59-14 in their first season opener at home since 2007.More >>
The University of Kentucky football team got some big plays from young players and a steady start from quarterback Patrick Towles to pound Tennessee-Martin 59-14 in their first season opener at home since 2007. More >>