By David Schuh | Men’s basketball columnist
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Saturday was supposed to be UK’s day. Four months ago, March 8 was the day that the Cats would surely christen a perfect 18-0 SEC season.
With the hype ringing from media to fans to players themselves, Saturday was to be another milestone on the way to bigger and better things.
But Saturday’s game, and that vision, belonged to the University of Florida. As the Stephen O’Connell Center celebrated the Gators’ four senior starters and a 84-65 win, everybody left knowing who was the real SEC juggernaut.
Florida won the game by halftime. The Gators’ 49 points (by far the most UK has given up in a half this season) created a 21-point lead.
The Cats were done. They went to the locker room without a chance.
But then they fought.
A shocking 15-0 run midway through the second half cut the lead to six.
UK was taking (and making) good shots and playing great defense, and it had made a colossal blowout look like it could become a historic comeback.
But then once Florida scored to quell the run, the other Cats came back. For those five minutes, UK played its best.
As they’ve shown time after time, the Cats couldn’t maintain that level. If they do it for even 20 minutes at a time, they could be great.
Yet against Florida, on a day honoring four seniors who have won 113 games in their college careers, five minutes won’t do much.
“They are that good,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “And if you don’t come and play, you’re going to get smashed.”
Boy, did they get smashed.
Take away that run in the second half and Florida won Saturday’s game, 84-50. For 35 minutes, the Gators outscored UK by 34 points.
The most frustrating thing for Calipari has to be the total lack of progression his team has made in four months.
Playing hard in spurts, taking terrible shots, not hustling back on defense: All these are universal problems that teams face in November.
UK seems to be the only one still battling itself in March.
Yet somehow, everyone still sounds optimistic.
Though time is running out and the only preparation left is next weekend’s SEC Tournament, players still hope their flashes of greatness can magically become the norm.
“The guys in the locker room, we all still believe,” freshman forward Julius Randle said. “But there’s a point where we have to put it into action. I think we still will.”
That’s a tall task at this point. As the Cats prepare for potentially three games in three days in Atlanta, their only hope is for the players to magically implement everything they’ve failed at so far.
And as UK still tries to find itself, Florida is celebrating a perfect conference season.
November seems so long ago.