An NCAA tournament without Kentucky? The defending champions sitting out the Big Dance?
The season took a nasty turn for the Wildcats when Nerlens Noel tore his anterior cruciate ligament last month. But on Thursday night, Kentucky was left searching for answers after a flat, ugly, terrible 72-62 to Georgia. The loss puts Kentucky (20-10, 11-6 SEC) in the position of probably needing to beat Florida on Saturday or go deep into the SEC tournament to keep playing this month.
Coach John Calipari’s team is 3-3 since Noel was hurt, but perhaps there’s more than that going on.
“I am so disappointed in the job I’ve done with this team. I can’t even begin to tell you,” Calipari said after his team’s fourth straight loss on the road. “I’ve done this 20-some years. I’ve never had a team not cohesive this time of year. Every one of my teams [have been] cohesive. Every one of them had a will to win more than how they were playing. Every one of them had a fight. Well, if this team doesn’t have that, that’s on me.”
Archie Goodwin, a freshman who led Kentucky with 20 points, was having none of that, though. “I’m mad. There’s no way we should lose to Georgia. There’s no way we should lose to Arkansas,” Goodwin said. “When we play like we’re supposed to, there’s not anyone in the country we can’t beat. When we play like this, when we play soft as a team, anyone can beat us.”
And next up is Florida, which beat Kentucky 69-52 in Gainesville on Feb. 12, in the game in which Noel was injured. Losing Noel was huge, but the Wildcats’s problems go deeper. They have few quality wins, some very bad losses and very few answers.
“Have faith?” Willie Cauley-Stein said. “Go to church? Maybe that’s what we need to — go to church as a team and pray for each other.”