I had a rare Saturday night off. Fever, body aches and coughing fits that made my abdomen hurt can knock even the hardest working man in show business on his ass.
So I took advantage of my illness and planned my day of rest accordingly by planting myself in front of the tube, catching up on movies I had already seen 1,000 times (Goodfellas, Coming To America, Independence Day) with the pièce de résistance of the evening being the undefeated University of Kentucky Wildcats playing a ho-hum little basketball game against my struggling Florida Gators.
Billy Donovan’s team, led by four seniors, ran through the Southeastern Conference last season, making it all the way to the Final Four. This year, those four seniors are gone leaving a new sheriff in the SEC: John Calipari’s unblemished Wildcats, a team with more McDonald’s All-Americans than an Alabama draft class.
As the clock struck nine and my second batch of Theraflu fully digested, I took to my sweat-drenched sofa to watch the game with an analytical yet watery eye. Hopefully the Gators would play better than I felt.
Florida’s lone bright spots this season are Michael Frazier II and Dorian Finney-Smith who have both picked up where they left off last year. They are number one and two on the team in scoring respectively. Over-hyped sophomores Chris Walker and Kasey Hill, on the other hand, have failed to live up to expectations. Their opponent for the evening, at least so far, appeared without weakness. They haven’t had a close game in nearly a month. They beat # 4 Kansas by 32, #5 Louisville by 8, #6 Texas by 12 and #21 North Carolina by 14. In fact, this Kentucky team would probably give the New York Knicks a run for their money.
Florida beat Kentucky three times last year but this is not the same Florida team and this most certainly is not the same Kentucky team. These Wildcats are incredibly well-balanced with seven players averaging over 7.5 points per game. They’re long too. Their size forced Florida’s big man, Jon Horford, into foul trouble two minutes into the game and then his back-up, Chris Walker, into foul trouble shortly after that. An under-sized Florida team had no shot against a Kentucky squad that boasts seven players six-foot-eight or taller.
The only advantage the Wildcats didn’t have over Florida that evening was home court. An animated crowd did their best to keep Florida’s players in the game. The Gators, however, would need more than that.
Florida built an early lead thanks to some pesky defense and sharp shooting by Frazier. But Kentucky held his shot attempts to a minimum with some tight defensive rotations. After going 3-3 and leading the Gators in scoring, Frazier limped off the court before half. That couldn’t bode well for Florida. Who would handle the scoring load against one of the best defensive teams in the nation? Frazier would eventually return and the Gators would walk into the locker room at half time only up two after leading by as many as eight.
Could the almighty blue be taken down a fourth straight time by their conference rival?
At 12-10 and staring the NIT in the face, the Florida Gators desperately needed a signature win to make the tournament. Even with a loss, Kentucky was a shoo-in for a number one seed. Clearly they’d rather stay undefeated.
The second half was a slug-fest with each team taking its others best shots, exchanging leads for nearly the whole twenty minutes.
In a quick turn of events, a Kentucky turnover was immediately followed by an ill-advised Florida pass. That pass led to a fast break the other way and the highlight reel we’ve come to know as this year’s Kentucky Wildcats: an Aaron Harrison alley-oop to the high-flying Willie Cauley-Stein that made even the staunchest Gator fans go “Oooh!” That basket and ensuing free throw only gave Kentucky a one point lead but it was a lead that would hold, the alley-oop serving as a stark reminder the distance in talent level between these two squads.
While Kentucky didn’t blow Florida out after that, Kentucky’s length was too much for Florida to overcome. The Wildcats had a height advantage at every position and rotated well to defend any sort of penetration or jump shot Florida attempted. With a gimpy Frazier riding the bench in the second half, the Gators needed a perfect effort to beat Kentucky. They didn’t get it.
Therein lies the difference between beaten and unbeaten.
With 42 seconds left in the game, Kentucky finally missed their first free throw. They were 21-22 from the line. They left the O’Connell Center victorious with their biggest lead of the game being the final one. 68-61.
Is Kentucky beatable? Sure they are. Several teams have already come close, including Florida.
Will they run the table? That scenario is also quite likely. They have eight more regular season games, then the conference tourney and big dance for a chance at history.
They are deep, talented, disciplined, intimidating and very, very dangerous.
No college basketball team has run the table since Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers did so in 1976. That team had seven players drafted into the NBA, including four first-rounders.
From the looks of this Kentucky team, they might just match that feat as well.
Isn’t that par for the course , for Gators’ related sports nowadays ?
Sad about the passing of Tar Heels Dean Smith . Meant more to College Basketball and as an activist with regard human rights and the civil rights’ era than some would be willing to acknowledge .
So sorry our Gators lost! But even sorrier that the SC feels sick. 🙁
Hope both get better ASAP!!
I was glad to see the fight…we were right there at the under 4. And in a pyrrhic victory, we covered. But geez, guys, make some damn free throws! And Billy, get Frazier some damn shoes that fit! There was no worse time for him to gimp out. I’ve seen worse teams than ours get the auto bid for winning the SEC tournament, but a more realistic hope is for some NIT home cookin’. Get better, that’s an order!
BTW, who is Anna?
Jon Horford had me literally screaming at the TV in the final miniutes. He looked absolutely terrified in crunch time…first pump faking for what seemed like an eternity seemingly just to get fouled..then missing both FT. After looking bad on the defensive end he once more found himself with the ball at the basket. This time the officials got bored with his hesitancy and put him out of his misery with a travel call. I’m not sure he actually travelled but I doubt it would have mattered. The Gators once more proved Kentucky can be beaten…except for the fact no one has closed that deal yet. Kudos to Billy D for making the night competitive however. I do believe Kentucky will lose eventually…but not in the regular season or the SEC tourney. They’ll likely fall in late March.
Back in the late 70’s Dean Smith and his assistant pulled up in a limo @Shaker HS in upstate NY to presumably watch/recruit 2 of the teams stars in action. One was a quick great shooting white kid and the other was a lanky black dominating center. As they entered the gym, the parents of the white boy boldly introduced themselves and asked when he would be able to talk. Coach Smith replied, “Actually, I’m here to recruit Sam Perkins.” source reporter from the Schenectady Gazette.
Florida played well in a losing effort. KY has an easy rest of season SEC schedule. Only shots for a stumble would be @LSU tues or @GA . I can just hear Coach Cal in the locker room after the victory. “This is just what u guys needed.” Same ole.
Btw, Doesn’t Belichick suppose to let SEA score if they run ML?
Smith was a legend, Al. What else can be said?
And here’s the thing about Donovan’s Gators.
When Noah, Horford and Brewer all left, the cupboard was bare of talent. This year, after those seniors left, they have talent. They’re just not performing.
What in the world is going on with Chris Walker? Why is this kid not dominating?
This damn thing lingers, that’s for sure.
I don’t have a problem with Horford overall. He’s played well his season and he’s clearly outplaying Walker for minutes. But he was outmatched in this game. He was giving up height and weight to anyone he was covering.
Again, that just goes to show the difference in talent level between these two programs right now.
And that’s a damn shame.
Speaking of coaching legends, I’ve had John Wooden: A Coach’s Life on my desk for about a year that I’ve been meaning to get to. Only problem is the book is about 800 pages long. Who has time for that?
Florida had their shot but as they’ve proven all season long, this team might not have the mettle to win big games.
Oh well, there’s always next season.
And yes, actually I think even Collinsworth and Michaels were debating whether or not to let the Seahawks score in that situation. Goes to show what we know, huh?
1) James Brown…the real “hardest working man in show business”…is dead.
2) Kentucky is impressive, but there’s no way they get past either the Hawks or the Cavs in the play-offs.
This is where the Gators have to look to those seniors but at the same time, Billy Donovan and the coaching staff have to prove their worth .
With regard to the passing of Dean Smith , it’s astounding to look at the list of Tar Heels’ players who went on to have a great deal of success in the NBA . Most tend not to look beyond James Worthy and Michael Jordan . Yet going down the list and you suddenly realize how good Smith was what he produced and built the program into .
James Shields agrees to a four-year $72 million with the San Diego Padres . So much for the Kansas City Royals seeking to gain some semblance of continuance .
James “Big Game James” Shields is a oxymoron. Searching through my records, he’s not the go to guy. He will however benefit from Quall Comm.
James Brown lives on, my friend.
And speaking of undefeated basketball teams, did you see what the UConn women did to South Carolina this evening?
I’ll tell ya’. I remember when SEC basketball used to be competitive. These days, not so much.
This is a young Gator team so there’s really no seniors to turn for direction. They may as well just cash that ticket for the NIT.
Smith’s graduates (Yes, I said graduates) comprise a veritable who’s who of NBA all-stars. 27 straight 20-win seasons ain’t nothing to sneeze at.
And San Diego got themselves their man in Big Game. Tough division though.
He’ll be the guy to get you there though.
The guy’s a horse, man. He’s averaging 14 wins and 220+ innings over his career.
NIT or bust for the Gators . The SEC this season is as competitive as ever, but I believe the only thing which will stop the Wildcats will be their own complacency .
Rex Ryan believes Richie Incognito deserves a second chance and can contribute to the Bills this upcoming season. I hear E J Manuel , has stated . the moment he sees Incognito don a white hooded bed-sheet , all bets are off, as to when he throws down and kicks Incognito’s @ss .
I still believe George Karl is making a big mistake if he signs with the Kings as their new head coach ! DeMarcus Cousins is a simply another meltdown away from kicking someone’s ass and given Karl’s recent health issues I am not so sure he wants to be on the end of a physical beat-down. PJ Carlissimo was never the same again , after he and Latrell Sprewell did their little dance .
Julio Franco is eying a return to the Majors (MLB) at age fifty-six ? He’s the oldest player to hit a home run past the age of forty-five . So it’s not beyond him to do so at the age of fifty-plus, if he ends up on the right team in some capacity.
Gregg Popovich notches his 1,000 regular season win in the NBA . Merely a handful of coaches have achieved the feat in NBA history.
I am not sure the Gators are all that talented. CW is the worst 5 star player in quite some time. He looks clumsy on the court and lacks B-ball IQ. Great, he can jump and dunk and that is about it. Five star player my ass.
Kasey Hill is almost as bad, but at least he seems to have some skill. Another 5 star guy that seems lost. At least he finally attacked the rim with a purpose against UK. Too bad he only has a right hand. The guy is attempting layups on the left side with his right hand.
DFS is decent and a workaholic. Frazer plays scared most of the time and gets in ruts and doesn’t want to shoot half the time. Chiozza will be decent. Eli Carter might as well stay on the playground. Seriously, our equipment manager gets major minutes. That is all we need to know. This team is awful. If they are talented they sure as hell do not listen. I am OK with it as Billy has not forgot how to coach and sometimes players are busts or just don’t pan out. Happens to everybody. NIT will be an accomplishment with this bunch.
The death of two great coaches from College Basketball inside of fifteen days with the passing of Dean Smith and Jerry Tarkanian ,
What’s the point of having a Skills’ Contest as part of the NBA All Star weekend festivities if you rarely see those skills on display during the actual regular season ? I mean , look at the level of the play overall and then the records of the teams .
All Star weekend news
So Manning will be returning to the Broncos next season ? More deja-vu to my mind as his window of opportunity has been shut . He’s not going to win another Superbowl . Ware , Miller and Talib showed how overrated their defense was said to be as they didn’t show up at all in the loss to the Colts during the postseason never mind an anemic offense in that particular contest.
Pop’s the man, I think the jury is still out on Cousins, at least for me. I know he’s the man and all that but I’m not sure he’s got it within him to be the teams leader. I guess we’ll see
And it’ll be interesting to see what Incognito does under Ryan.
From his highlight reel, I really had hopes for Walker. He definitely ain’t workin’ out. Can you say underachieving? I knew that you could.
I agree with you on everything else
Al… I hadn’t heard that about Tarkanian. Those were some pretty bad ass teams he had back in the day.
Russell Wilson is that baddest brother on the planet.
And it’ll be fun to see Manning try his damndest for one last Bowl.