CRAWFORD | Calipari looking for answers as Kentucky 'hits bottom' in 88-66 loss to Florida
Florida handed Kentucky its worst loss as a Top 10 team since the 1992 Wildcats lost by 22 at Tennessee in an 88-66 demolition in Gainesville.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — It wasn’t the worst a John Calipari-coached Kentucky team had ever been beaten. But when Florida pounded Kentucky 88-66 Saturday night in Gainesville, it was the worst a good Calipari Kentucky team had ever been beaten.
It was, in fact, the most lopsided loss a Kentucky team ranked in the Top 10 has suffered since a 22-point loss at Tennessee on Jan. 21, 1992. That night, Allan Houston and the Vols ran it up on Kentucky after Jamal Mashburn fouled out. The Wildcats got revenge a month later, with an 11-point win in Rupp Arena, the last game in the building for the team they call The Unforgettables.
There is just a bit of a lesson to be learned in that. It’s in here. Not all is gloom and doom. But not before an examination of what happened.
I’m not going to try to pretty up the performance. Florida outrebounded Kentucky 54-29. Coming into the game, Florida ranked 12th in the Southeastern Conference in rebounding. Florida claimed every loose ball, it seemed. Kentucky didn’t defend. Florida shot 67 percent in the second half. The Wildcats’ seven assists were a season-low. The seven blocked shots by Florida a season-high for a UK opponent.
“They just beat us,” Calipari said. “They beat us to every ball. . . . Florida outplayed us, outcoached us . . . they deserved to win. They wanted it worse than we did, or at least it appeared that way. ”
De’Aaron Fox, the freshman point guard who has been out with the flu and who has a bad ankle, was the only Wildcat who looked as if he showed up to play. He finished with 19 points, Malik Monk had an off night — and Florida did an outstanding job of dogging him defensively. He finished with 11 points on 4-14 shooting. Bam Adebayo had nine points, seven rebounds and four steals.
The numbers don’t matter so much. Florida was energized, and Kentucky looked, well, sick. Or something.
The Gators are a good team. They’re a Top 10 RPI team. They didn’t have a signature win on the season. It was Kentucky’s misfortune to be the paper on which Florida wrote its name. In Gainesville, as usual, it was electric. ESPN’s College Game Day. You know the drill.
Kentucky looked tired of the drill, to be honest. Only Florida’s offensive sloppiness kept the margin from being more than seven points at halftime.
You figured a couple of Monk jumpers could rectify that situation and the game would be close in the second half. You figured they would get the ball to Bam Adebayo and he’d go to work in the post. Kentucky closed within four points to open the half. Then Canyon Barry drove through the Wildcats’ defense and made an uncontested layup, and you knew that even if the Wildcats shooting picked up, the problems on the other end weren’t going away. Calipari burned his final timeout with 14 1/2 minutes left the game. But it didn't really matter what buttons he pushed.
“We’ve got to go back and get in the groove of how we’re playing,” Calipari said. “That’s the first time De’Aaron has played in six days. What I don’t think we get yet is that every game we play is like the Super Bowl. It gets to where every game you walk into you try to get going. You know, I just want to see them fight and try and we did for a while. But Bam can’t start the game the way he did. Malik can’t play the way he did in the first half. Isaiah had four turnovers, that’s 10 in the last two games, so we probably had the ball in his hands too much. Right now the four position is back to where it was at the beginning of the year, and we’ve got to get that guy back. But I’ll say it — I still love this team. I think we’ve got a talented group. We’ve got to get back into what we have to do, and be real specific with them and just hold them accountable. If they play defense like that they think that’s acceptable and that comes back to me.”
Calipari was pretty frank in his postgame comments with Tom Leach on the UK radio network.
“Guys making shots is one thing,” he told Leach. “But when you get beat to every ball, when you get outrebounded by 20, there’s something missing right now that we were doing early, we’ve just got to get back to it.”
The problem is that this didn’t just come about. Kentucky lost at Tennessee, then lost at home to Kansas. Without heroics from Malik Monk, it wouldn’t have gotten past Georgia at home in an overtime win. Then last night. Yes, it’s just one loss, but trend hasn’t been good.
“I knew after Tennessee we had an issue, and I said something to them. I said, ‘You’re going to lose the next two or three, if you don’t change,” Calipari said. “The best thing is we have a talented group and they’re great kids. We don’t have any bad apples. We’re just not playing well right now. . . . It’s on me to figure this out. You think they can? They were just playing in Vegas eight months ago, playing three games a day. This is on me to figure out, and if it means changing the lineup and doing different things, my guess right now is with De’Aaron out it’s had an effect on us. We’ll see.”
That Top 10 Kentucky team that lost at Tennessee in 1992 didn’t take it lightly. Every loss was like a little death, particularly to guys with last names like Pelphrey, Feldhaus and Farmer. There was no cutting up on the bench like some cameras apparently caught Saturday night. That team wasn’t finished being tattooed. They lost at home to Arkansas by 17 in their next game and lost by 21 at LSU two games later. Then they won 13 of their next 14, and the only thing that stopped them was a Christian Laettner dagger at the buzzer in overtime.
I know. That was a different time in a lot of ways. Players were different, the game was different.
This much is the same: You can lose big and still wind up in the rafters. But you have to care. Deeply.
“Right now I’m not even thinking in terms of Final Four, I’m thinking, let’s start seeing what our best is, then you can worry about that other stuff,” Calipari told Leach. “If this doesn’t hurt, they won’t change. If this hurts, they’ll change.”
“Sometimes you’ve got to hit bottom,” Calipari told reporters. “And maybe we have hit bottom and maybe we haven’t hit bottom.”
This is a talented team and there’s no need for panic. The Wildcats still are a Top 10 RPI team that will get a good seed and every chance to succeed in the NCAA Tournament. But that won’t happen without passing the ball and playing defense and committing to being a great team, instead of a collection of great players.
“Either we’re going to change and be a team that looks for each other and communicates defensively,” Calipari told Leach, “or we’re going to be this. . . . I'm not cracking. I've been doing this 30 years. I've seen everything.”
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