Nerlens Noel goes down in loss to Florida


UK freshman forward Nerlens Noel on the ground after falling during the second half of the University of Kentucky vs. University of Florida men’s basketball game at the O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fl., on Tuesday, February 12, 2013. UK lost 69-52. Photo by Tessa Lighty

By David Schuh | @DSchuhKernel

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The UK men’s basketball team ran into a physically dominant Florida Gator team Tuesday night and had little answer.

The Cats fell, 69-52, tying the worst loss in the John Calipari era at UK. But, what happened with eight minutes to go in the game could have been the most devastating loss of all.

After chasing down Florida senior guard Mike Rosario in transition, freshman center Nerlens Noel attempted a shot block under the basket and landed awkwardly on his left leg.His knee buckled, and the O’Connell Center fell silent, amplifying Noel’s screams as he lay on the court.

“We all, as a team, got together and prayed for him for a minute,” Calipari said. “I didn’t see much. I just saw it looked ugly.”

After several minutes, five UK players ran across the court, picked up their injured teammate and carried him to the locker room.

The home fans applauded, all envisioning the worst for the star freshman before he was taken to hospital in a wheelchair.

“We’re all brothers,” graduate student Julius Mays said of helping Noel off the court. “Win, lose or draw, we’ve always got each other’s backs.”

Even before Noel’s injury, Florida controlled every aspect of the game.

The Gators made five of their first six 3-pointers, including three straight that gave them a 12-point first-half lead.

Florida’s guards suffocated UK on the perimeter, making it difficult for the Cats to establish a consistent flow on offense.

Junior center Patric Young commanded the paint all night, finishing with a Noel-like stat line of 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.

The Gators used a full-court press for the majority of the game, which seemed to fluster the Cats.

“This was a game that exposed us a little bit physically,” Calipari said. “We got a little rattled. That’s what happens with young players.”

And in the second half, the effect was only amplified.

The Cats got no closer than 12 points behind the Gators, turning the ball over 17 times and tallying just 11 assists.

“We just played soft, scared, uptight,” Mays said. “Usually we’re really good with the press. I don’t know what it was today, but we just weren’t tough enough.”

It was their seventh loss of the season, and a game where the Cats wasted a chance to solidify the big picture of their season.

But, in the big picture of these young Cats’ careers, one of its most promising futures could be hanging in the balance.

A UK spokesman said late Tuesday that Noel underwent tests at the University of Florida’s Shands Hospital and was due to fly back to Lexington with the team.

“I’m physically sick right now,” Calipari said. “We hope and pray that he’s OK. But, we’ll see.”