Kentucky had just lost a second straight game for the first time this season. Yet Coach John Calipari said the word “fine” six times in his postgame news conference. He said the word “OK’ twice.
Calipari set the don’t worry-be happy tone at the start.
“Let me say this, and start by saying this: we’re going to be fine,” he said.
Calipari acknowledged that “freshman mistakes” contributed to a 66-64 loss to Florida. But he cited how UK held the Gators to 6-for-30 shooting from three-point range and 66 points (which equaled Florida’s second-lowest point total of the season) as reasons for optimism.
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Plus the return Quade Green, who had missed the previous three games because of a back strain, moved Kentucky closer to a full roster.
“We’re going to be fine,” Calipari said. “I was worried after (a 76-68 loss at) South Carolina. Now, I’m not worried after this. We’ll be fine. I was worried after Vanderbilt, to be honest with you, and we won that game.
“They do this and they stay the course, and this is who we are, we’ll be fine.”
If Calipari was playing mind games and trying to bolster confidence after a third loss in the last five games, he need not have bothered.
“There’s no lack of confidence in ourselves,” Sacha Killeya-Jones said. “There’s just an understanding there’s work to do.
“We can’t just go out there and mess around.”
Wenyen Gabriel acknowledged the sting of losing, but he voiced confidence in the players’ belief that all will be good.
“It kind of hurts,” he said before adding, “sometimes you want to hurt so you can bring each other his might together. One of our problems is learning how to fight, and this might be one of the losses that can pull us together.”
UK players spoke of the team improving.
“You can see in games we’re getting better as a team,” Nick Richards said. “We’re getting more comfortable together. We know what each player likes to do.”
Gabriel echoed the sentiment.
“We’re just going to get more used to each other,” he said. “Eventually, we’re going to have to figure it out, and I know we will.”
Meanwhile, Calipari took solace in a freshman-dependent team playing a veteran Florida team to a final possession despite the handicap of 16 turnovers and 4-for-17 three-point shooting.
“I’m good,” Caliapri said. “I know there’s some people out there that will be panicked and all this. Be panicked. I’m glad I’m not sitting with you because I am fine.”
Killeya-Jones did not pass the metaphorical buck in assessing another case of UK wobbling down the stretch.
“That comes with us being a young team, but that’s no excuse,” he said. “I take a lot of the responsibility for that. As a second-year player, I should be a leader. I’ve been through this. I’ve seen these situations before. So I’ll take responsibility and try to be a better leader.”
UK or Duke?
Jalen Hudson, who transferred from Virginia Tech to Florida, was in a position to compare playing in Rupp Arena with Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I would say this was loud, if not louder (than Cameron),” he said. “There were definitely more people here than Cameron. So it is crazy loud in here. It is probably one of the best arenas I have played in. I couldn’t even hear myself think.”
The flag of his native Jamaica appeared on the shoes Nick Richards wore.
“I’m big on my country,” he said. “I’m always talking about Jamaica toward the guys. The music. The food. The culture.”
Gabriel suggested it was good timing that Richards could wear the shoes in a game that was part of the ESPN TV show College GameDay.
“He always had pride in (Jamaica),” Gabriel said. “But this game, it’s College GameDay. It’s going to be a good day to show it to the world.”
Florida improved its record in games associated with College GameDay to 7-2. That includes a 7-1 record against UK in such games. UK’s College GameDay record fell to 5-10. The Cats have lost five straight College GameDay games. … ESPN set a 7 p.m. ET start time for next Saturday’s Kentucky-West Virginia game. The College GameDay TV show will originate from Morgantown in conjunction with the game.