Kentucky experiences 'thrill of defeat' against Florida

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 17, 2014 

Listening to Kentucky accentuate the positive Monday brought to mind a line from the situation comedy Frasier. The I'm OK-You're OK platitudes of a self-help author drove Frasier to long for the "worldly cynicism of Barney the Dinosaur."

Never mind moral victory. Kentucky players and coaches embraced the notion of a moral defeat.

"I think we learned a lot from that game," Aaron Harrison said of Saturday's 69-59 loss to Florida. "We talked (Sunday) about if we had won that game, we probably wouldn't have learned as much as we should have from that game.

"Since we did lose, I think we learned a lot, and just took a lot from it."

On the Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference, Coach John Calipari spoke of how UK learned it could beat anybody in the country (never mind how close UK is to not beating anybody in the country that's ranked: 1-4 record).

Assistant coach John Robic, who substituted for Calipari in the regular day-before-a-game news conference, spoke of Sunday as a "really, really good day for us as a program."

Players, coaches and Calipari were really "upbeat" and "positive" in the wake of losing a highly anticipated showdown against Florida that co-starred ESPN's GameDay crew.

"It was the most positive I've seen Cal and our staff after a defeat in a long time," said Robic, who noted that he doesn't have that many defeats to use as a reference.

Precisely the point. It sounded odd to hear Kentucky so welcoming of defeat.

"Our goals are the same regardless of Saturday's outcome," Robic said. " ... We know we can play with anybody in the country and — you know what? — there were a lot of years it was flipped. Teams would play us close and think they could play anybody in the country."

Keeping the Cats believing seemed to be the idea behind Kentucky's kumbaya.

Robic acknowledged that the late stages of a season, not to mention UK's mostly young and impressionable players, demands can-do optimism.

"At this point of the year, you have to remain upbeat," he said. "If you don't, you shouldn't be doing this, and these kids shouldn't be playing this game. We took a lot from it, and it was mainly positive."

The yes-I-can — Sammy Davis had it, as Jerry Seinfeld once noted — gets its first test Tuesday night at Ole Miss, which is 5-0 at home in league play (Florida is the only other SEC team undefeated at home).

Kentucky, 19-6 overall and 9-3 in the SEC, took solace in playing Florida evenly. The Gators led by only three with less than three minutes to go. UK matched its largest lead — a 45-38 score — on Andrew Harrison's putback with 11:12 left.

"I think we grew up as a team," Robic said. " ... We can play with anybody in the country. That's really evident."

The UK camp studied the final 11:12 — dissected it, Robic said — to learn how Florida won and Kentucky lost.

"Saw what they did," Robic said. "In a lot of ways what we need to do.

"So it was a very, very positive day for our players and our program. We know what adjustments we need to make."

Robic noted how Florida scored on every trip downcourt in the final 11:12. Either UK had a defensive breakdown or Florida got a good shot or Florida made a well-defended shot.

"It's extremely hard" for any team to be that efficient," Robic said. "I wouldn't say it's perfect. But it was very well done by them."

Now Kentucky wants to be similarly crisp in the decisive final minutes of a game.

Jarrod Polson, one of UK's two seniors, said he didn't think the cheeriness of Monday was mere spin.

"I think we really did learn a few things from that game," he said. " ... If we work on those things, and not just put our heads down, we'll be right there at the end."

Polson brushed off that 1-4 record against ranked teams.

"We feel we are the best or one of the best teams in the country," he said. "Maybe we haven't had a good record against ranked teams. But at the end of the day, we feel like we've been in those games. That we've been close with them. We continue to just believe ... our ceiling might be a little higher than most teams.

"We'll see."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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