The story of Tuesday night’s matchup between No. 7 Florida and No. 25 Kentucky is the left knee of Nerlens Noel.
He hurt it. It looked bad. He was carried off the floor. That’s all we know right now.
But it also overshadowed a more interesting story that was developing: Kentucky played about as poorly as a team with four lottery picks can play, and still managed to cut the lead to 12 points when Noel went down.
And I don’t need to tell you what the issues with Kentucky were. Alex Poythress played like he was shaving points. Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein both were dealing with foul trouble. So was Archie Goodwin. Ryan Harrow was so overwhelmed by Florida’s defensive pressure that Coach Cal was forced to use Jarrod Polson in the back court with him at the same time. At one point early in the second half, Kentucky had 13 turnovers and just six assists.
Yet, Florida was never able to put them away. They were never quite able to step on the Wildcat’s throats and take all intrigue out of the game. Part of that is a result of playing without Will Yeguete, but Yeguete has always been more of a defensive-minded than an offensive weapon. And his replacement, Casey Prather, played about as well as he has since enrolling at Florida.
So what do we make of this?
Well, it’s tough to know.
On the one hand, Florida was never really in danger against a top three or four team in the SEC, pushing their lead to as much as 19 points in the second half. But they also allowed a team that had absolutely no rhythm offensively to get into a rhythm and to begin to mount a comeback. What people may forget is that on the possession right before Noel’s injury, Goodwin missed a wide-open three, Poythress missed a layup and Goodwin was called for a charge. All in the span of 10 seconds.
After Mike Rosario missed a three, a lazy pass led to the fast break when Noel’s knee buckled. Kentucky had four chances to cut the Florida lead to ten points.
In simpler terms, Florida didn’t exactly win in impressive fashion.
And yes, I know, I’m picking nits.
But when you’re a national title contender — which Florida is — that is a week removed from many trumpeting the fact that you’re the best team in the country — which many believed Florida was — you’re supposed to put struggling, overmatched teams away before their best player has to leave the game.
That Florida didn’t is a fact that stood out in the second half.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.