CRAWFORD | Cal plays it cool, but Kentucky's loss to Florida won't calm concerns
Kentucky saw its 30-game home winning streak in SEC play stopped by Florida on Saturday, but Wildcats coach John Calipari said, "We'll be fine."
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – Two things happened in Rupp Arena Saturday night that almost never happen. First, Kentucky didn’t get a call at the end of the game. Twice, UK players drove to the basket, both times whistles could have been blown, certainly on the final drive P.J. Washington, one should have been blown, but the whistles stayed silent.
Second, and of perhaps greater concern, Kentucky lost to a team that didn’t play all that well. Florida shot just 33 percent from the field and went just 6 of 30 from three-point range, yet the Gators walked out of Rupp with a story to tell after surviving 66-64 to take joint control of the Southeastern Conference race with Auburn, at least for the time being.
The loss ended a string of 30 straight SEC wins at home for the Wildcats. It sent an ESPN College GameDay crowd of 24,394 home grumbling.
But it did not send Kentucky’s head coach into any kind of panic. John Calipari came into the post-game news conference cool and collected.
CRAWFORD VIDEO | On Kentucky's loss to Florida, with comments from John Calipari
“Let me start by saying this – we’re going to be fine now,” he said. “What I saw today, that is one of the best offensive teams in the country, you held them to 33 percent, 20 percent from the three-point line. We didn’t come up with some loose balls because we didn’t understand the importance of them. We had some freshman mistakes. . . . But, proud of them. They gave themselves a chance to win.”
Only twice in the game did Florida make three shots in a row. Once that included a layup and a dunk, the other time it was three straight layups .But the Gators picked a good time for one last Trifecta – the game’s final 3:29.
Florida senior guard Chris Chiozza made a three with 3:29 left that put Florida up 58-56. Washington answered with a layup to tie it for Kentucky. But the Wildcats would miss their next four shots from the field – three of them three-point tries – and after a Keith Stone layup and a pair of KeyVaughn Allen free-throws, Florida led by six with 44 seconds to play.
Kentucky wasn’t finished. Though the Wildcats were only 2 of 15 from three-point range in the game to that point, Kevin Knox banked home a three to cut their deficit in half, and after a pair of free-throws Wenyen Gabriel hit another three to pull Kentucky within 66-64. After Stone missed the front end of a bonus with 19 seconds left, the Wildcats had their chance.
Quade Green drove the lane but missed a jumper after absorbing some contact. The ball was swatted out of bounds by Florida. After that, P.J. Washington went to the rim and was greeted by Jalen Hudson, who appeared to rake him across the face on replays as he swatted the shot down. There was no call.
When Calipari was asked about it after the game, he said, “What? You would ask me that? I been asked some dumb questions in my life. I don’t mean to embarrass you. Everybody saw it.”
But beyond that, Kentucky missed its chances. It seemed content to play a slow-paced game even when Florida was struggling from the field.
The Wildcats have yet to develop that one scorer who can light a fire under the offense. Calipari said that Green is still not 100 percent, and that makes a difference. “If he goes 2-4 instead of 0-4 from three, we’re all right.”
The Wildcats turned it over 17 times, but points off turnovers were tied. They outrebounded Florida by 11, but second-chance points were tied.
The worrisome things about this team are its difficulty shooting threes and a lack of consistent leadership on the court. Only two players reached double figures for Kentucky on Saturday – Gabriel and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Both had only 10 points.
Calipari said of the errors his team made offensively, its difficulty coming up with loose balls, “I can fix those things.”
It’s a difficult result to accept because Kentucky played good enough defense to win. If it holds an opponent to 33 percent and 6-of-20 shooting from three, the locker room should be celebratory. That it did those things and lost – and home – well it’s not the end of the world. It’s just something you’re not used to seeing around Big Blue Nation.
Still, Calipari says he’s fine with where his team is. He does need to get more minutes for Jared Vanderbilt, as he is able to find them. Vanderbilt played 12 minutes and scored four points. Sasha Killeya-Jones played only 12 minutes, but had seven points and three rebounds and Kentucky was plus-13 while he was on the court. Nick Richards had eight points and nine rebounds.
“We’re going to be fine,” Calipari said. “Whew. I was worried after South Carolina now. I’m not worried after this, we’ll be fine. I was worried after Vanderbilt, to be honest with you, and we won that game. They do this and they stay this course and this is who we are, we’ll be fine.”
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