For a long, ugly stretch of Kentucky’s 66-64 loss to Florida on Saturday night, to say that the shots weren’t falling for the Wildcats would be an incredible understatement.
UK made 40 percent of its field goal attempts, third-worst in 19 games this season.
The Cats made 23.5 percent of their three-point attempts, their fourth-worst mark on the season. Two of their four makes came in the last 34 seconds, and one was a bank shot.
More to the point — the point being that these Cats have often struggled away from the paint — was a cover-your-eyes stretch to close out the first half and start off the second in which Kentucky’s players missed 18 straight jump shots. Eighteen.
It started with Wenyen Gabriel’s off-target three-point attempt with 9:27 left before halftime. It finally ended, mercifully for the Cats, with a Kevin Knox jumper with 8:52 left in the game.
During that stretch, UK was 0-for-8 on three pointers and 0-for-10 on jumpers from inside the arc. Five layups and three dunks accounted for their only baskets, according to the official stats.
“It just feels like we’re out there, nothing’s really working, you start feeling like you’re just kind of running around, the shot clock’s running down, and then we end up trying to chuck up a shot,” Gabriel said afterward.
“We have to focus — be more consistent with what we’re doing. It gets frustrating at times.”
It didn’t help that this performance came on the heels of UK’s 1-for-11 effort from three-point range in Tuesday night’s loss to South Carolina. (The Cats didn’t make their first three Saturday until Hamidou Diallo splashed one in with 8:10 left).
None of UK’s highest-volume shooters were available to talk to reporters after the Florida loss — Gabriel and post players Sacha Killeya-Jones and Nick Richards met with the media — so they couldn’t speak to the shooting woes.
Knox was 4-for-10 from the floor (all jumpers), Diallo was 3-for-8 (and 2-for-7 on jumpers). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was 1-for-6 on jumpers, and Quade Green — in his first game back after missing three due to injury — missed all five of his jump shots (and all four of his three-point attempts).
Kentucky is still shooting 34.3 percent from three-point range on the season, but the Cats are 8-for-38 (21 percent) in their past three games.
“We can shoot the ball, it just hasn’t been our emphasis,” Gabriel said. “A lot of our shots are supposed to come from going in and out. You need to drive the ball in and kick the ball out. Or post it, and kick it back out. You can’t just come and jack contested shots.
“Once our offense starts flowing better, you’re going to see the three-pointers start falling. We’re a good team. We have a lot of talent. We just have to get it all together.”
Coach John Calipari said he was fine with UK’s ball movement in Saturday’s game. “They shared the ball today,” he said.
But a few minutes later, he mentioned something that often plagues young players, especially those who have spent their entire basketball lives being the go-to guy.
“I don’t see confusion. I see somebody trying to get their own, and now it leads to a turnover or a missed play,” he said. “When we move that ball, and we drive and find people, we’re really good.
“But you have to trust your teammates are going to pass it just like you. If you don’t think they are passing it, when you get it, you’re not passing it.”
Gabriel mentioned players holding on to the ball too long, or not making the right decision — and Calipari said that Gabriel was one of the players guilty of this Saturday night — and that leading to missed opportunities for others.
“We’re catching it and (holding it),” Calipari said. “We are ball stoppers. That’s when you’re not trusting each other.”
So, what’s the answer?
Time, it seems.
Calipari, as he does pretty much every year, preached patience after Saturday’s loss, the Cats’ fifth this season and second in a row.
Killeya-Jones, one of only three scholarship players on this team who’s not a freshman, has confidence in his team’s ability to make shots.
It’s just going to take some more time to get everyone on the same page.
“We’re still growing,” he said. “I think our ball movement now is way better than it was the first game of the year. When we do move the ball, it’s obvious we’re doing the right things and we get easy baskets out of it. So, now, it’s just a matter of doing that for 40 minutes and playing every possession like that.
“We have very capable shooters. We just have to execute.”