UK Men's Basketball

Which means more, talent or experience?

John Calipari said he was glad it was over.

Actually, his word was ecstatic. He didn't mean Kentucky's Senior Day, Calipari's first as head coach. Sunday's tears and cheers were as touching as anticipated. Calipari wasn't talking about that. He was talking about the regular season.

You might find such sentiment unusual for a coach whose team just finished a 29-2 campaign, with a 14-2 league record and the school's 44th Southeastern Conference basketball championship.

But your usual coach doesn't spend the entirety of the regular season talking about little besides the post-season.

"Let's get on with it," Calipari said after his Cats had beaten Florida 74-66 before 24,354 in Rupp Arena.

The man seems anxious. He wants to know. Talent or experience? Which means more?

In this wondrous regular season, Kentucky has shown beyond a reasonable doubt it has the talent necessary to bring home the school's eighth national championship.

But also in this wondrous regular season, Kentucky has shown its youth can make it vulnerable in this NCAA Tournament.

"We did some things to give them a chance," said Calipari on Sunday, and it's hardly the first time he's used that phrase.

Kentucky led Florida 34-16 with 5:17 left in the first half. Cruising commenced. Then with 6:53 left, Billy Donovan's Gators had pulled to within two, 60-58.

At 62-60, the Cats did what they have so often done. They bore down. They made plays. They rose to the occasion. Florida went 3:45 without a point. Kentucky proceeded to victory.

Florida is an NCAA Tournament bubble team, however. It's not a Kansas or a Syracuse, or even a Michigan State or a West Virginia. Those teams don't start three freshmen. Can the Cats afford such youthful lapses of concentration against tougher competition and survive? Once the light flickers, can it hit the switch in a do-or-die setting?

"It's what we'll do to ourselves," said Calipari of his greatest fear. "Something happens, and we lose our minds."

It might be a questionable official's call. It might be a coach's decision that rubs them the wrong way. It might be a 50-50 ball that bounced the other way. Suddenly, their immaturity is ignited. Calipari wants his team to shrug those things off. It can't. Not yet.

He also wants his team to put its foot on the other team's throat. His team isn't that team. Not yet.

"I think the killer instinct is there," said Patterson. "We just haven't developed it."

Time is running out. Sunday, Cal all but dismissed this week's conference tournament in Nashville, saying it was useful only in a seeding sense. Part of that might be the business of lowering expectations. Yet it fits comfortably with what Calipari has preached all year.

"We're playing for that other tournament," he said.

The hope is that such a consistent message has taken hold. Maybe the way the Cats have been able to pull it together down the stretch of games will now translate to the stretch of the season.

After all, talent counts. It's good to have John Wall, as clutch as it comes. Patrick Patterson will play a part. He might not be NCAA Tournament-tested, but he's battle-tested.

Having DeMarcus Cousins camped on the block doesn't hurt. If Sunday's Darius Miller is the evidence of a March Darius Miller, Kentucky will be tough for any team to beat.

That is if youth doesn't beat it first.

"It's the next four weekends," said Calipari.

Does talent mean more than experience?

Let's get on with it. Time to find out.

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