Kentucky's players surprised by their performance at Florida
In addition to my column, three takeaways from Kentucky’s 80-67 loss at Florida:
1. These Cats could not beat the SEC big boys.
If you go by the conference standings — “You are what your record says you are,” once growled the great Bill Parcells — then this young Kentucky basketball team came up empty against the three best teams in the league.
Auburn clinched the No. 1 seed on Saturday with Tennessee settling for the No. 2 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament in St. Louis. By virtue of its 13-point win over the Cats on Saturday, Florida clinched the No. 3 seed.
Kentucky played No. 1 seed Auburn once. The Cats lost 76-66 to the Tigers in Auburn on Feb. 14, not the kind of Valentine’s Day gift John Calipari would want going up against Bruce Pearl.
UK was actually up 59-55 with 7:04 left to play, but suffered a significant offensive drought, scoring just one field goal the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Auburn outscored the Cats 21-7 to get the win.
Kentucky lost to Tennessee twice, starting with a 76-65 setback on Jan. 6 in Knoxville. The Cats led that game, too, up 37-29 at the half only to have their doors blown off in the second half. Rick Barnes’ club sent UK home smarting after outscoring Kentucky 47-28 over the final 20 minutes.
In the Feb. 6 rematch in Rupp, Kentucky had its chances. In fact, the Cats led 58-56 with 1:28 to go, but again failed to score a field goal the rest of the way, losing 61-59. Calipari took the blame for the loss, saying he should have taken a timeout when UK committed back-to-back turnovers inside the final minute.
Kentucky also lost twice to Florida. The Cats dropped a 66-64 decision in Rupp to the Gators on Jan. 20. Repeating a theme, UK led 56-53 with 5:37 remaining, but couldn’t hold on. The Gators outscored the home team 8-6 over the game’s final three minutes to get the win.
Florida completed the sweep Saturday and it was never much in doubt. The Gators led by 15 at the half and by as many as 23 in the second half.
2. Hamidou Diallo has to find a way to contribute.
The New York native got postgame hugs in the locker room after busting out of a slump to go 3-for-3 from three and score 11 points in UK’s win over Missouri last Saturday in Rupp.
There were no hugs this Saturday, however. The redshirt freshman guard missed all seven of his shots, including three three-point attempts. He scored just one point, making one of three free throws.
That was not his lowest output of the season. Diallo failed to score in the previously mentioned home loss to Tennessee. He was 0-for-3 from the field in that game, missing a pair of three-point attempts.
A preseason All-SEC choice with a ton of athletic ability, Diallo has struggled mightily in conference play. He reached double figures in just five of the 18 games. After an 18-point game Jan. 9 against visiting Texas A&M on Jan. 9, Diallo hasn’t scored more than 13 in a game.
He’s not doing a lot else on the offensive end, either. He hasn’t collected more than four rebounds since grabbing seven against Mississippi State on Jan. 23. He hasn’t had more than two assists since the first Florida game on Jan. 20.
For Kentucky to make any kind of postseason run, surely Diallo has to find a way to pick up his game. Calipari said Saturday that near the end of the game, he was urging Diallo to drive the ball. When Diallo answered that the team needed threes to get back in the game, the coach said he just wanted the guard to do something, anything that was a positive.
3. Cats climb back on that turnover train.
If you wanted to pinpoint one statistic and only one statistic that is a barometer for how this Kentucky team will fare in a game it’s this: Assist-to-turnover ratio.
In 14 of its 31 games this season, UK turned the ball over more times than it was credited with assists. The Cats went 6-8 in those games.
In five of those 31 games, UK had as many assists as turnovers. The Cats went 4-1 in those games. The lone loss was to UCLA on Dec. 23 in New Orleans.
In 12 of its 31 games this season, UK was credited with more assists than turnovers. The Cats went 11-1 in those games, the lone loss coming Feb. 10 at Texas A&M.
In the four-game win streak that was snapped Saturday, Kentucky put up some of its highest assist totals of the season — 16 at Arkansas; 17 against Missouri; 19 on Wednesday night against Ole Miss.
Overall during the streak, UK had 62 assists compared to 45 turnovers.
Saturday, the Cats reverted back to their old bad habits, turning it over 13 times as compared to a season-low six assists.
UK committed eight turnovers in the first half on the way to a 48-33 halftime deficit. Florida converted those turnovers into 14 points, compared to just two for Kentucky.
According to Ken Pomeroy, UK is turning the ball over on 19 percent of its turnovers. Tough not all of Saturday’s games were complete, as I write this that ranks 215th out of the 351 Division I teams. And UK’s ratio of assists to field goals made was just 49 percent, which ranks 253rd.
Not a prescription for postseason success.