Kentucky Basketball: 10 Things We Learned from the Loss to Florida
Florida dominated. Kentucky folded.
In one of its worst performances of the year, Kentucky lost to Florida 69–52.
The Wildcats regressed. Their youth was on full display in Gainesville. Florida looked like a tenured, skilled squad. Kentucky looked scared.
The Wildcats, winners of five straight and seven of their last eight, had the look of a team ready to prove they belonged in the Top 25.
And, in the first few minutes, Kentucky looked like what we expected. At the 11:56 mark in the first half, they led 11–10.
That was the last lead for the Wildcats. Florida went on a run and never looked back.
Here are 10 takeaways from the Kentucky loss to Florida.
All statistics via ESPN.com
Nerlens Noel Struggles to Guard the Perimeter
It was evident from the start of the game.
Just before the under-16 timeout, Erik Murphy drilled a three after Nerlens Noel was slow to rotate.
A shot that would have been blocked (or altered) by Anthony Davis resulted in three points.
Murphy took advantage of that fact all night. Noel makes a living pestering players down low, but his perimeter defense is average.
Florida had a game plan, and it showed. They forced Noel away from the hoop, and his impact on the defensive end was minimized.
Here's to hoping his knee injury is not as bad as it looks.
Jarrod Polson Is Legitimate
Once a walk-on, Jarrod Polson is now more than just a bench warmer for the Kentucky Wildcats.
He played more than Archie Goodwin against Auburn (20 to 17) and played well against Florida.
Polson was bothered by the press, but the rest of the Wildcats were as well.
Defensively, Polson proved to be an asset. He doesn't have the quickness to stay in front of every guard, but he plays with energy and keeps the ball alive.
Alex Poythress Is (still) Too Quiet
The ugliest stat line of the night belongs to Alex Poythress.
Poythress went 1-of-9 from the floor and grabbed just four rebounds.
Now more than ever, Kentucky needs Poythress to play like he's capable of playing on a nightly basis. He has talent.
Is he scared of the limelight? Is he suffering from the lack of a leader? Does he need more guidance?
Something didn't click for Poythress against Florida. His inconsistent play will continue to be a detriment to the Wildcats.
Archie Goodwin Hasn't Learned
Will Archie Goodwin learn?
His full arsenal of erratic play was showcased in Gainesville. He charged into the lane on multiple instances with one goal in mind: Getting to the rim.
For better or worse (against Florida, it was the latter), this is Goodwin's style. He loves to dive to the rim.
Florida was prepared. They drew charges on Goodwin. They left him open on the outside. They played him on the break knowing he wouldn't be looking to pass.
He didn't pass.
Sometimes, this style turns out OK for Goodwin. He'll make crazy shots or dunk over any defender standing in his way.
But that wasn't the case against Florida, and it won't be against teams that prepare for Goodwin's headstrong style.
Pressure Is a Problem
Florida is a pressing team.
Kentucky knew this, but still struggled to bring the ball up the court.
Ryan Harrow, Julius Mays and Jarrod Polson were too weak to break through the Gators' trapping defense. They were too short to see over the press and find an open man.
John Calipari was forced to give Archie Goodwin the reigns to break the press.
He wasn't much better.
Florida is one of the best defensive teams in the nation — and it showed. Kentucky showed it couldn't handle the pressure.
Depth Will Always Be an Issue
Florida is not a particularly deep team, especially down low.
But it was the Gators who were the aggressors on offense and forced two fouls on both Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein in the first half.
With Noel on the bench, Florida extended its lead by six points in the last six minutes of the first half.
If Noel's injury turns out to be anything significant (it didn't look good), the depth issue will only be compounded.
Will Cauley-Stein step up and be a force in the paint? Will Calipari play smaller lineups?
Depth will continue to be a problem for Kentucky.
Kentucky Has No Leader
From the beginning of the season, the "leadership" problem has been addressed.
The question has quickly shifted from "who will step up?" to "will someone step up?"
It hasn't happened yet, and it might not this year.
The Florida game proved as much. Adversity struck in full force against Florida and no one stepped up.
It seemed as though Kentucky was improving and that Nerlens Noel was that leader. But, Patric Young took him out of the game and his injury may prove to be another hurdle for this team to overcome.
Talent alone won't win games against teams like Florida. It will take a team, and right now, Kentucky does not have the cohesion one would expect after 24 games.
Kentucky Is Not Elite
Florida is an elite basketball team.
Kentucky is not.
Offensively, Kentucky was disoriented. It did not look like a team that averaged 76 points per game prior to Feb. 12.
Defensively, Kentucky guards could not defend the quicker Florida guards. Florida may have elite athletes, but perimeter defense has been a challenge for the Wildcats all year.
Florida proved that Kentucky couldn't guard elite perimeter players.
On both ends, Florida looked like the physically dominant team. It ripped the ball away from every Kentucky player, from Ryan Harrow to Alex Poythress.
Kentucky was exposed. How will they respond?
Feb. 16 Will Be a Struggle
The road doesn't get any easier for the Wildcats.
On Feb. 16, Kentucky travels to hostile Thompson-Boling Arena to play Tennessee.
With or without Nerlens Noel, Tennessee is capable of beating the Wildcats.
Kentucky was rattled against Florida and you better believe Tennessee fans will be ready when the Wildcats come to town.
Will Kentucky overcome adversity like it did against Ole Miss? Or will it fold, much like it did against Florida?
Kentucky May Not Improve
Kentucky was rolling through SEC play.
This game against Florida was for the top spot in the SEC, which may say more about the SEC than it does about the Wildcats.
Florida has been destroying SEC opponents (minus one blooper against Arkansas), and Kentucky was no different.
Kentucky was improving, or so it seemed.
But the young Wildcats didn't looked excited to play Florida for the top spot in the SEC. After a competitive start, Kentucky folded under the pressure. Florida went on a run, and Kentucky never responded.
This was a theme earlier in the year, and it seemed that Kentucky had found some resiliency in road wins against Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
This loss to Florida was a huge step back, and losing Nerlens Noel for any amount of time will be devastating.