Kentucky basketball: Wildcat offense short circuits under Florida zone

Kentucky guard Davion Mintz forward Olivier Sarr and forward Keion Brooks Jr. ( Credit: Arden Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)
Kentucky guard Davion Mintz forward Olivier Sarr and forward Keion Brooks Jr. ( Credit: Arden Barnes-USA TODAY Sports) /

Final. 71. 526. 67. 528

Kentucky basketball’s offense dazed and confused by Gator zone

The Kentucky basketball offense was running, shooting, and scoring in transition for 10 minutes until Florida switched to a  zone defense and sent the Wildcats into a state of confusion. The end result was a classic failure to finish and all too common 71-67 loss.

With the loss, Kentucky (8-14, 7-8) is guaranteed a losing record in home games this season. The last time the Wildcats had a losing record in home games was in 1926-27 when they were 2-8 at Alumni Gymnasium.

The six home losses in Rupp tied the most in a season matching the 2008-09 and 1988-89 teams.

Coach John Calipari said after the zone switch his team wouldn’t drive the ball or create opportunities.

"“Guys, they spread the court. We should be playing faster.” But guys got tentative. We had some bad play, individual bad play today, and that happens. They are not machines. They are not robots. We had a couple guys play one of their worst games, no energy. And you know, we still had our chance to win."

It was senior day typically a game where a packed Rupp Arena and Big Blue Nation honor those beloved seniors with the emotional “My Old Kentucky Home.” This time it was Olivier Sarr, Davion Mintz, and walk on Riley Welch who got his start ever playing three minutes getting a rebound, and committing a foul but drew a huge ovation for the much smaller crowd.

Kentucky was off and running early but trailed 5-4 before a 13-0 run in under 3 minutes to take a 15-5 lead. The offense was in high gear while not taking many shots but efficient early at a 60 percent shooting clip. The keyword being early.

Brandon Boston was fouled on a 3 point attempt out of the corner hits all three free throws to give Kentucky a 23-14 lead with 11:40 left and then its largest lead at 26-16 after a technical on Gator coach Mike White and Jacob Toppin made free throws.

And then that was that.

Zone defense completely befuddles Kentucky

White then switched to a zone defense and Kentucky didn’t handle it well.

Florida promptly went on an 8-0 run in less than a minute as Noah Locke and Scottie Lewis knocked down threes and Lewis slammed home a dunk making it 26-24 and a very angry Calipari called a timeout with 7:57 to play yanking Keion Brooks after he turned it over and failed to get back on the dunk.

Florida changing to a zone and junk defenses caused total confusion especially for Devin Askew who had no idea how to attack it and bogged down the offense. Sarr down low looked just as lost in how to get open.

Toppin said it was clear on what the zone did to the Wildcats.

"“We’re a better team when we are running the floor. They were kind of staying compacted and we couldn’t get into the middle of the paint, so that was making it hard for us. We couldn’t figure out how to penetrate the defense and that’s what affected us.”"

The Gators changed the UK shot selection and disrupted the offense which forced way too many turnovers as they mustered only one bucket over a nine-minute stretch but knocked down 12 of 13 free throws to lead 33-30 with 4:50 to play.

Florida led 5-4 but trailed until 1:43 remaining in the half but Davion Mintz bucket gave Kentucky a 39-38 lead at the half.  Typical of these games as each of Kentucky’s last five home games against Florida, the margin at halftime has been 3 points or less

A sluggish start to the second half.

Isaiah Jackson was in typical form with 7 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 blocks but picked us his third foul with 15:58 to play.  Calipari left him in and was whistled for No.4 with 10:25 to play.

Kentucky’s woeful shooting, poor decision making, and “me” mentality continued late into the game with 4 of 15 shooting from three including Askew capping it off by drawing nothing but air with 4:56 to play and the Wildcats trailing 62-59.

Toppin slammed home a missed shot with 3:54 to play giving Kentucky a 63-62 lead which proved to be their last as the dreaded final four minutes again took center stage.

Indecisive shots, bad shots, dribbling balls out of bounds, Florida knocking balls of UK players and out of bounds wouldn’t allow UK to get over the hump despite being within a stop and shot of winning. However, making 1 of your last six field goals won’t get you the win.

Could of, should of, would of – but didn’t

Kentucky could of, should of and would have won this game after blowing out the Gators 76-58 in Gainsville the first time. Instead, they reverted back to the individualistic style and all about me.

The sheer number of times that Calipari this year has used the phrase “Why would you do that” is climbing as high as Mt. Everest. He truly is running out of answers after explaining the same thing over and over after 22 games.

Cal said their next opponent Ole Miss will probably play 40 minutes of the zone after watching the tape of this game.

"“We looked out of whack. No hard cuts. Normally, you guys that have listened to me, historically when a team plays zone, I like it because you have to pass the ball. They are in a zone. We didn’t pass it again. Whoever caught it, held it. “I’m making the play.” Okay. Now you’re going against—the ball moves, it’s posted. We don’t throw any skips that we had worked on for three days over the top.”"

Either the basketball IQ is seriously lacking or the light bulb is completely burned out and won’t come on or they have just given up.

Those who show and those who don’t

Calipari has trimmed the rotation is seven players. Nine players checked into the game including Welch and Allen played just four minutes so bullseye with the seven.

Right on cue, the following showed up Mintz leading the way with 21 points, three steals, three rebounds a steal, and an assist. Unfortunately, he was just 7 of 14 shooting and 2 of 9 on threes.

Jackson a solid 11 points on 4 of 4 shooting, five rebounds, and three blocks, while Toppin brought the energy off the bench 11 points and 3 rebounds.

The average one again was Boston with 13 but 3 of 10 shooting, and the ineffective in Sarr with six points, Askew added a single point, three assists, and three turnovers. Dontaie Allen never got a shot off, but that’s his teammate’s fault for not getting him the ball and Keion Brooks netted just four points and four boards.

"“I put Dontaie (Allen) in and what I basically said is, “Find him.” Guess what? They didn’t even look at him. I said, “Get him shots.” Are you ready? They didn’t. “I’m getting mine.” I don’t know what it was, but we were not connected today like we’ve been, and me saying that, like as bad as I thought we played in the first half, we’re up one.”"

Kentucky has just two regular-season games left with Ole Miss on Tuesday and make-up with South Carolina next Saturday before the Southeastern Conference Tournament begins March 10.