With Kentucky’s only chance to play in the NCAA Tournament perceived to hinge on getting the automatic bid that goes with winning the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Saturday’s loss to Florida hurt.
It came on a day when three of the teams ahead of UK in the competition for an SEC Tournament double-bye lost: LSU, Tennessee and Ole Miss. With a 7-8 league record, UK seems to be looking at needing to win four games in four days in Nashville to win the SEC Tournament.
Kentucky’s longest winning streak this season is three games.
When asked if Kentucky’s collective back is against the wall, Jacob Toppin said, “Oh yeah. We’re definitely in attack mode right now.
“We wanted to win this game so bad for what we want in the future.”
Toppin did not dismiss as implausible a dramatic change in fortune.
“We’re definitely desperate now,” he said. “We want to create this story. We’ve been in a slump. We have our backs against the wall. So, we want to come out and attack.
“We want to be able to do something special. We’re all focused on the main goal, which is doing something better than we did in the past.”
UK Coach John Calipari declined to assess his team’s chances of playing in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re worried about Mississippi,” he said. Kentucky plays next at Ole Miss on Tuesday night.
However the NCAA Tournament chances play out, Olivier Sarr said the UK team has something to prove.
“We want to prove that we belong,” he said.
With Florida’s combination of full-court pressure and zone defense stifling the offense, Calipari put home-state hero Dontaie Allen in the game.
“What I basically said was find him shots,” the UK coach said. “They didn’t even look at him. I said, get him shots. … (Instead, teammates seem to say) ‘I’m getting mine.’”
Toppin cited Florida’s zone defense as a reason.
“Their zone was very effective,” he said. “We couldn’t get Dontaie open. We couldn’t find Dontaie shots that he could make.”
Allen did not take a shot in the three-plus minutes he played.
Senior Day caught Sarr by surprise when his parents and younger brother appeared on the Rupp Arena video screens. They smiled broadly during the ceremony. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Sarr has not been with his family for months.
“It was just an unbelievable feeling to see my brother and my parents out there,” he said. “It was fantastic.”
UK explored the chances of adding a game, but it will now finish the regular season with next week’s games at Ole Miss and home against South Carolina.
“We had a top team, a top-ranked team that we had discussed,” Calipari said. “(UK was) thinking about playing Thursday.”
Kentucky also considered another opponent. The idea was to “build some confidence,” Calipari said.
“We’re going to have a tough go of it with what we have,” Calipari said.
Kentucky went into the game with five players averaging double-digit points: Brandon Boston (11.9 per game), Terrence Clarke (10.7), Keion Brooks (10.7), Davion Mintz (10.5) and Olivier Sarr (10.5).
The last time a Kentucky season ended with five players averaging double-digit points: the national championship team of 2011-12: Anthony Davis (14.2 per game), Doron Lamb (13.7), Terrence Jones (12.3), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (11.9) and Marquis Teague (10.0).
Prior to 2011-12, seven UK teams had five players with final scoring averages of 10 or more points. Those include the national championship team of 1977-78 (Jack Givens, Rick Robey, Kyle Macy, James Lee and Mike Phillips) and Rupp’s Runts (Pat Riley, Louie Dampier, Thad Jaracz, Larry Conley and Tommy Kron).
Best he’s coached
During a Friday teleconference previewing the game, Florida Coach Mike White referred to Keyontae Johnson as the best player he’s coached. Johnson collapsed on the court at Florida State in the fourth game of the season and has not played since.
Gone was a player voted to the coaches’ preseason all-SEC team and the media’s pick to be SEC Player of the Year.
“Now, he’s teaching the game a little bit,” White said of Johnson’s subsequent role as a coach’s aide/player advisor. “I have even more respect. … He’s on the sideline or at halfcourt standing next to me and giving his observations during practice. He sees a lot that you wouldn’t quite expect a guy at his age to see.”
Kentucky’s record number of all-time victories remained at 2,326. Kansas, which played No. 2 Baylor on Saturday night, was second at 2,319.
Kansas has one game this coming week — against UTEP on Thursday — before the Big 12 Tournament.
Kentucky’s home record fell to 4-6.
UK had lost six or more home games only four times previously: 12-6 in 2008-09, 8-6 in 1988-89, 8-7 in 1966-67 and 2-8 in 1926-27.