By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky freshman guard Quade Green was right about there being a spanking in Saturday’s game at Florida. He just had the wrong team getting spanked.
Host Florida rolled to a 23-point lead in the second half and then throttled a UK rally that trimmed the margin to nine points with about 6 1/2 minutes left to beat Kentucky 80-67. The win gave Florida the No. 3 seed — and a double bye — in the SEC Tournament.
Kentucky has to wait for the Missouri-Arkansas game to see where it finished. A Missouri win would give UK the No. 4 seed and a double bye in the SEC tourney. An Arkansas win puts UK at No. 5 and playing on Thursday rather than getting a double bye.
Florida had won earlier at Rupp Arena despite going 6-for-30 from 3-point range and Green had predicted after UK’s win over Ole Miss Wednesday that the Cats were going to “spank” the Gators this time. Green had 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting but did not have an assist in 27 minutes.
Coach John Calipari had been afraid his young team might “revert” to its old ways going into the Ole Miss game that UK won handily. Against Florida, though, the “pouty basketball” returned. Kentucky’s defensive slippage was so bad early that Florida made 16 of 18 shots in one stretch and was 10 of 24 from 3-point range against what had been the nation’s best 3-point defensive team.
The Gators also turned eight UK turnovers into 14 first-half points and despite foul trouble by P.J. Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt that led to more minutes for Nick Richards and Hamidou Diallo, the Richards-Diallo duo combined for just three points and eight rebounds in 42 combined minutes. Diallo was 0-for-7 from the field in 23 minutes and Richards was 1-for-2 shooting in 18 minutes despite having a decided size advantage inside.
“First of all we put ourselves in a deep hole. 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 (in the media) could figure this out, somebody is open,” Calipari said. “ If you have two guys on you, that means throw it to somebody. Even if you just quickly get rid of it so that guy can find an open man. We reverted. This is how we played a month ago. Now you end up with six assists, 13 turnovers, come on. You can’t win playing that way.”
He’s right. This Kentucky team cannot do that. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had four of UK’s six assists. Richards and Diallo each had one. No other player had an assist.
Florida had 15 assists on 28 made field goals and hit 18 of 32 shots in the first half.
“Give Florida credit. They came out and made those shots in the first half and created the gap,” Calipari said.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led UK with 17 points on 7-for-14 shooting. But he had five turnovers and Caliph was not happy with his play, especially after Green hit his first three 3-pointers and never got another 3-point try.
“It was Shai as much as anybody. And then Quade did it too. Like, he would do a pick and roll with two guys playing him, and he went three more dribbles. You’ve got two guys on you. Just get rid of it. It doesn’t matter who you throw it to,” Calipari said. “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.
“Again, Shai didn’t play well today. I know you’ll say ‘well, he scored some points and all that’ but he did not play well today. 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. He didn’t today.”
Kevin Knox had 14 points in 28 minutes but was only 4-for-11 from the field and 1-for-5 from 3-point range. He had four rebounds. P.J. Washington hit double figures again with 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting and had a team-high seven rebounds.
Florida missed 10 straight shots in the second half when UK made its comeback but still shot 49 percent (28 of 57) from the field because it got so many easy looks the rest of the game.
“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. Hopefully this wakes us up, 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,’” Calipari said.
“It’s not about shooting balls and fadeaways, it’s a competitive spirit and we’re trying to bring it out of some of our guys and get them out of how they’re playing and worry about how we’re playing. It’s a process and it’s never ending. It won’t end this year until it ends.”
During UK’s four-game losing streak, it looked like the year might end early. During the four-game winning streak, March success seemed possible. After this performance, it’s hard to know.
Calipari has never been a fan of conference tournaments and that won’t change if UK does or does not get the double bye.
“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 or four days in a row here 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,” he said.
“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 is 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.”