- Sunday, March 7 2010 -
Florida - 66 (Head Coach: Billy Donovan) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 74 (Head Coach: John Calipari) - [Ranked 3rd by AP and 3rd by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 41, Florida 31
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|Georgia 80 - 68|||||Alabama 73 - 67|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats sweep Florida, but nagging question remains
The Kentucky basketball team has been besieged with questions about what it supposedly can't do since the season started. Are the Cats too young? Can they make perimeter shots? How will they react in moments tighter than a penny-pinching billionaire?
In a remarkable regular season the Cats have answered virtually ever criticism, but there is one nagging issue that has yet to be sufficiently addressed - is UK too much of a 'light switch' squad?
The Cats (29-2, 14-2) rushed out to an 18-point first half lead and lost nearly the entire cushion before putting Florida away for a 74-66 victory in front of 24,354 fans at Rupp Arena. The victory sent the Cats into the postseason with a sterling record but the maddening habit of growing disinterested after getting opponents on the ropes is UK coach John Calipari's chief concern as the one-and-done portion of the season begins.
"We had two or three plays and all the sudden it goes from 18 to 11 or 10," Calipari said. "You sit there and tell them these are things we can't do. I thought Florida outworked us at individual positions. I keep coming back to our goal has to be to work harder than that other team, we have to, if not we're going to disappoint ourselves somewhere along the way.
"We've got to hope for the next four weekends they can just come with a mission, nothing bothers them and they march on. But that's a tall order for a young team."
Despite the troubling lack of maturity in that department all the tools for March success were on display at various times against the Gators. The Cats made outside shots (Darnell Dodson and Darius Miller), pounded it inside when necessary (Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins), had their best player make a critical play (John Wall) and locked up defensively when it mattered most.
It didn't take long for UK to sprint to a 36-18 lead but Florida cut it to 10 by halftime and pulled within 62-60 with 5:28 remaining. John Wall swished a three from the left wing to stem the tide and the Gators never got closer than six the rest of the way, but the last remaining criticism remained alive and well.
"It's definitely a concern," senior guard Mark Krebs said. "I don't know if we just like to show we can turn it on when we want to, which is a bad thing, but I guess hopefully we answer that question in the postseason. Hopefully, we realize it's one-and-done and if you lose you're out. We have overcome everything people have said about us. If you listen to people they say we can't do this and that but we always do."
"Every team is going to come after us and beat us," Wall added. "We have to get better and start playing better. Coach told us when we are beating teams by 18 or 20 they feel like they can't beat us but then they get a run and get it down to eight or 10 and they get confidence and feel like they can win the game. That's something we have to learn, not letting them think they've got a chance to win it."
Amidst the teeth gnashing associated with the Cats' streaky play there was plenty to like. Although Vanderbilt's loss 24 hours earlier gave UK the outright Southeastern Conference regular season title (the 44th in school history) the Cats were focused and firing early against a team fighting for its NCAA Tournament life. Eight players scored as the lead ballooned to 18 points and UK allowed only two field goals over the final 5:28 to close out the game Gators.
Calipari was pleased at the positives his team showed but lamented what it may take for it to learn there is no margin for error beginning at this week's SEC Tournament and into the Big Dance.
"The biggest thing I can't get across right now is when you expect to win and have a swagger and you don't get upset," Calipari said. "You say, 'Oh well, we're going to win anyway.' We're not there yet. Something happens and we lose our minds.
"You're playing for something bigger. I've tried to instill it and I'm not sure we're quite there but we've done everything we're supposed to."
At least the Cats are talking as if they understand the urgency needed in March.
"We have to figure it out before the tournament because it can come back to bite us," sophomore forward Darius Miller said. "We have to stay focused. At times we get the lead and get a little bit too comfortable and we can't do that, especially not against the great teams we'll see in the tournament."
It's the last remaining question for a team where anything other than a Final Four would be considered a disappointment.
Florida's Alex Tyus tries to dribble around Patrick Patterson
Ramon Harris (#5) looks to pass in front of Florida's Chandler Parsons
DeMarcus Cousins (#15) shoots over Vernon Macklin (#32)