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This one was a 70-68 loss to Florida (18-5, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) that left UK (16-6, 4-4 SEC) searching for the balance between optimism about the comeback and disappointment about the failed finish.
“We’re getting closer,” head coach John Calipari said. “It’s just frustrating not finishing off the game.”
This time, it was giving up offensive rebounds and late turnovers that left an orange-clad crowd chanting UK off the court.
UK had fought back from an 11-point deficit to cut the lead to one with two minutes left. Then, two decisive shots: Terrence Jones missed a hook shot in the lane, and Alex Tyus made a hook shot in the lane.
Jones made a dunk to cut the lead to one, leaving an eight-second differential between the shot clock and game clock. Doron Lamb fouled Chandler Parsons with 11 seconds left, and Parsons made one of two free throws.
That set up a final possession for UK. Brandon Knight, coming off a ball screen, shot a three-pointer that clanged off the front of the rim.
“Normally, down two we want something at the rim,” Calipari said. “There was no calls, so we were not gonna go in there. Terrence went in there three times and we got nothing. So our best bet was going through Brandon. He got a great look.”
The last play was designed for Knight, and rightfully so. He had carried UK back from the deficit. Knight finished with 24 points, five rebounds and four assists.
“Brandon willed us to that score,” Calipari said. “He willed us. … When we got him going, I told the team we’re playing through Brandon.”
Knight also had four turnovers, including a costly one where Florida’s Kenny Boynton drained a three seconds after missing one. Calipari called it one of the critical plays in the game.
UK had fought back from the deficit by throwing a zone defense at Florida that took the Gators out of their rhythm. But the zone left a gap once a shot went up, which Chandler Parsons exploited twice in grabbing offensive rebounds from the weak side. Parsons finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
“Those two rebounds were huge,” Calipari said. “And he was on both of them.”
That’s the tradeoff with a zone defense. Players don’t have a specific man assigned to box out, so it’s easier to lose track of a player and let them slip in.
“But when the game’s on the line, you have to know you want the ball more than the other team,” Jones said.
It’s those types of plays that Calipari was lamenting after the game.
“You did everything right. You did all the comebacking,” Calipari said. “And that’s how you’re gonna lose? That’s where you say it’s unacceptable.”
The repetitious script has Calipari and the players frustrated.
“I think they’re tired of the finishes,” Calipari said.
Follow Aaron on Twitter @KernelASmith
UK head coach John Calipari:
Freshman Brandon Knight:
Freshman Terrence Jones: