Although surprising in its completeness, Kentucky’s 88-66 defeat at Florida on Saturday was almost inevitable.
Coach John Calipari linked UK’s most lopsided loss in the series to a defeat at Tennessee two weeks ago.
“I knew after Tennessee we had an issue,” Calipari said after the game. “I said you (players) are going to lose the next two or three if you don’t change.”
A few minutes later, Calipari returned to this theme.
“This didn’t just come on,” he said. “This has been a month now.”
A month ago, Kentucky routed Texas A&M and Arkansas by an average of 34 points.
Danger signs appeared in closer-than-it-should-have-been victories at Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
Then came an 82-80 loss at Tennessee, which began a downturn that has resulted in three losses in the last four games. The lone victory required Malik Monk to make a contested jumper to send UK into overtime against Georgia.
Calipari listed what he wants to see change. It sounded like a call to play more fundamentally sound basketball and try for fewer style points.
“You’re trying to do stuff you don’t need to do,” Calipari said as if speaking to the players. “… You’re not passing the ball. (You are) making hard plays. Making cute plays.”
The four-position (Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis) is again a problem, Calipari said. “Back to where it was at the beginning of the year,” he said. “We have to get that guy back.”
Calipari shouldered the responsibility for getting Kentucky back into what he called a “groove.” He suggested De’Aaron Fox missing several days of practice and the Georgia game as disruptive. Illnesses to Mychal Mulder and Sacha Killeya-Jones also roiled UK’s water.
“I think having guys out kind of got us screwed up,” Calipari said.
The UK coach expressed a belief that his team will play well again.
“Sometimes you’ve got to hit bottom,” he said. “Maybe we have hit bottom. Maybe we haven’t hit bottom.
“I’m not cracking. I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I’m not cracking. I don’t know if anybody in (the locker room) is.”
Calipari seemed to borrow from coaching rival Rick Pitino when he suggested future success was a choice.
“At the end of the day, we know how they can play because we’ve all seen it,” Calipari said. “Now, we see them at their worst. OK. It’s a choice. Do you want to be at your worst? Or at your best?”
Chris Chiozza, a 6-foot guard, grabbed nine rebounds. That followed his triple-double against Missouri 48 hours earlier: 12 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
So Chiozza’s rebound total for the last two games reached 21.
“For him to get nine rebounds … it’s about getting the rebound and then making sure the guy they’re guarding doesn’t get the rebound,” Florida Coach Mike White said. “It was huge. To me, it was the key to the game.”
By contrast, Malik Monk did not grab a single rebound in 34 minutes. Calipari has repeatedly urged Monk to rebound.
Chiozza’s performance against Missouri marked the first time a player had come off the bench to post a triple-double since Chris Lowe of UMass did it on March 5, 2008.
It was the first triple-double by a Florida player since Nick Calathes did it against Georgia on Jan. 28, 2009.
Isaiah Briscoe came to Florida as the leader in assists among SEC players in league games. He averaged 5.4 assists.
“I love Isaiah Briscoe’s game,” the Florida coach said on Friday. “In my opinion, he’s one of the most underrated guys in the country. I know he’s got a rep (poor shooter?), but I think he does a lot of stuff that doesn’t show up in the box score.”
Calipari pointed out Briscoe’s four turnovers, which increased his total in the last two games to 10.
“He probably has the ball in his hands too much,” Calipari said.
The defeat left Calipari two shy of another 20-victory season. When it comes, it will be his 23rd straight season with 20 or more victories. That’s more than Mike Krzyzewski (20), Bill Self (18) and Jim Boeheim (17).
An optimist would look to a still-possible 30 victories this season. Calipari has had nine seasons of 30 or more victories. Only Krzyzewski (13) and Roy Williams (10) have had more.
More than once in an eight-minute post-game news conference, Calipari said he needed to watch the game tape to be sure of what happened.
When he got up to leave, Calipari got sarcastic when he said, “Let me go watch tape on the plane. That’ll be a nice ride home.”