John Clay: While Cats are still busy learning, Florida puts on a fine college basketball show

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 16, 2014 

Florida isn't flashy.

The Gators don't overwhelm you with glitz and glamour. They haven't cornered the market on remarkable talent. Not unless, of course, you appreciate the finer points of hoops, of the details that make a difference, of a love for the grind.

In the things that matter, starting four seniors, Florida is teaching a master's class on the art of college basketball.

Midway through February, starting five freshmen, Kentucky is still learning now to play college basketball.

It was all on display Saturday night at Rupp Arena in a game that had little do with future NBA talent and lot to do with the here and now, a game that Florida won 69-59.

Kentucky led the third-ranked Gators 45-38 with 11:10 to go, up seven points in front of a jacked-up GameDay crowd.

And yet, as Florida center Patric Young said afterward, "Nobody ever won a game with 11 minutes left."

From then on, Florida more than doubled the Cats 31-14.

It was a far cry from the Gators last visit to Rupp, last March, when the Gators were outscored 11-0 down the stretch. Young was on that Florida team. So were fellow seniors Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete. They learned.

Kentucky is still learning. The hope was all that young talent would make up for the Cats lack of experience but it hasn't happened quite that way.

UK shot 47 percent to Florida's 44 percent, outrebounded the Gators 31-28 and made made two more three-pointers with one less attempt than the visitors but still took the L.

One reason: The Cats made just 14 of 23 free throws. Florida was 22-of-28. Another reason: A team getting 43 percent of its offensive rebound chances on the season, Kentucky got just a third of their offensive rebounds chances on Saturday night.

"(Florida) got two big offensive rebounds down the stretch," said UK coach John Calipari afterward. "Just went up and got it."

And did we mention defense? After Aaron Harrison's three-pointer from the left corner tied the game at 53-53. With 6:03 remaining, Florida's lock-down defense held Kentucky to six more points.

The stat sheet says Julius Randle produced his 13th double-double of the season, scoring 13 points and 13 rebounds. But Kentucky's star freshmen didn't score a field goal in the second half. His last points, two free throws, came with 8:14 remaining.

Calipari's technical foul right after that didn't help matters — "Thanks for the two free points," said Patric Young afterward — but in the end it probably didn't have much to do with the outcome.

Fact is, Calipari knows what he's up against, desperately trying to squeeze what he can out of a team so young with so little time to get it right. That's the reason he seems to be out on the floor nearly as much as his players. He was trying to squeeze what he could out of the officials, as well.

Meanwhile, on the other sideline, you barely knew Billy Donovan was there. That's not a criticism. That's a compliment.

The Florida coach did his work not just before the game, but over the previous two, three years, molding a veteran team that knows how to make plays down the stretch.

Asked what Donovan told his team during a couple of timeouts, Wilbekin answered, "He just sort of got us refocused."

The Gators needed tweaking.

Kentucky needs teaching.

"We're not ready to win that kind of game," Calipari said afterward. "And I told them that. We've got to understand and listen. Take responsibility. If a guy outplayed you, admit it."

It's time to admit the clock is ticking. Saturday night was a Big Blue opportunity for Kentucky to show how much it has learned, to send a signal it is a legitimate contender in the national championship hunt.

Instead, Kentucky took just its third home loss in the Calipari era.

As he left the post-game podium, Patric Young was humming a happy tune.

He was humming the "Gator Chomp."

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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