John Clay: Another road game, another close loss

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 6, 2011 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — John Calipari said it again.

"What we know is that we're good enough to win," the Kentucky coach said Saturday night, standing in the back hallway of the O'Connell Center.

And yet, Kentucky can't seem to win.

Not on the road.

Not in a close one.

It happened at Alabama. It happened at Ole Miss. It happened again against the Gators. Cats go play a big game on the road. Cats fall behind on the road. Cats fight back on the road. In the end, Cats lose on the road.

Saturday night's count was a 70-68 win for Florida that gave Billy Donovan's club almost complete control of the SEC East.

The Cats are 1-4 in conference away from home. They've lost two in a row, the first time since 2005 that Calipari has suffered back-to-back losses.

The Gators win the close ones. They have three overtime victories, two of them on the road against SEC foes — one at Tennessee, one a double-overtime win at Georgia — to now go with a two-point win over the Cats.

Kentucky loses the close ones. The Cats fell behind by double digits at Alabama, then lost by two. The Cats fell behind double digits at Ole Miss last Tuesday, then lost on Chris Warren's 25-footer. The Cats fell behind by 13 to Florida, then fought back to actually take the lead, then give it back and lose in the end.

Brandon Knight brought the Cats back. On Friday, the Florida native downplayed the trip back to his home state. But once he was inside the Sunshine State, Knight lit it up when his team needed it most, finishing with 24 points, making 4 of 5 threes.

The one three he missed came at game's end, with Kentucky down two, with Calipari eschewing a time-out — "I liked the look we had," said the Kentucky coach — in favor of trying to get something off the scramble. Knight finally shot it, though seemingly not with much confidence, and the ball clanged off the rim. Florida win.

Florida has the experience. Maybe close games do come down to that. Donovan's club has all five starters back from an NCAA Tournament team. He doesn't have a star. But he does have team players and a savvy senior in Chandler Parsons, who scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, including two monster offensive rebounds.

"Those were huge," said Terrence Jones.

The Gators are not normally a good free-throw shooting team. Yet they stepped to the line and made 18 of 22, including six of seven over the last 3:01.

The Cats don't have Florida's experience. But they do show heart.

With Josh Harrellson ineffective, Eloy Vargas shrugged off the verbal arrows from the Florida student section — "Hey, Vargas, which bench is more comfortable?" — and grabbed four big rebounds in 14 minutes.

But Harrellson, again, had upper-class company. Battling foul trouble again, DeAndre Liggins scored just four points. Darius Miller hit a big three late but suffered defensive lapses, especially early in the second half.

"They scored four times off one guy," Calipari said.

Looking back, that's where the game was lost. Jon Hood had hit a big basket at the first-half buzzer to cut Florida's lead to 34-32. But the Gators opened the second half with an 11-4 run to stretch the lead to nine. Soon, it was 13. Kentucky did what it does on the road. It charged back. It came close. But not close enough.

"We're getting closer, it's just frustrating not finishing off a game," said Calipari, before adding, "We're good enough to win."

But for this young team, knowing you can win and winning are not the same thing. Not yet.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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