Perspective was everything in Rupp Arena Saturday night:
— A last-second play that saw a Florida defender appear to nearly decapitate a Kentucky player with a clear path to the rim was, in the eyes of the officials, not a foul.
A few feet away, John Calipari nearly lost his mind, so stunned was he that his guy wasn’t awarded two potentially game-tying free throw attemps.
Farther down the floor, Gators coach Mike White saw a clean play, “hands on balls.”
— With less than a minute to play, his team down, 64-58, a Kentucky “fan” surrendered his seat in the nether regions of Rupp, hurling a final message toward the team he claims to support: “Y’all are garbage!” he shouted, according to several reporters within earshot. “Every f*****g game!”
He missed what might have been a terrific comeback, had a public mugging been properly officiated. The heinous no-call was simply a footnote to a loss that left thousands of other fans filing out of Rupp, likewise upset and unhappy. At the same time, Calipari addressed the media, deep in the bowels of the arena.
“This is very, very much encouraging,” he said.
The Wildcats lost for the second straight time and they’re struggling, despite a collection of freshman talent deemed by some experts last spring as tops in the nation.
Unfortunately, the one newbie who was supposed to bring a shooter’s eye to the bunch, Jemarl Baker, has missed the entire season so far with an injury and likely will not return (“He’s not close,” Calipari said, with March looming just six weeks away).
Jump shots that scramble nets can hide a multitude of sins. Against the Gators, until those closing seconds it seemed, if the Cats didn’t work it to within a few feet of the rim, they had no chance of scoring.
That’s one reason there was a scant total of 130 points in a UK-UF matchup that in the past had featured roof-raising affairs, with electricity coursing through the crowd so palpable you could feel it in the palm of your hand.
It was like that early Saturday night until the game settled into a mish-mash of missed shots, fumbled rebounds and blown opportunities.
Calipari had a different perspective. He took note of the Gators’ shooting woes and chose to praise his guys.
“We held them to 33 percent (field goal shooting) and 20 percent from the three-point line,” he said, and he was right. Limiting the Gators to just 66 points should have meant a double-digit win for the home team.
The problem lay at the other end of the floor, where these young Wildcats haven’t figured out a way to find, build and sustain offensive flow. Kevin Knox banked in a three-pointer with 34 seconds left that gave the Cats a fighting chance at the end. But he’s nowhere near the potential scoring machine he appeared to be early in the season.
Quade Green returned from a back injury but didn’t have his jumper with him, finishing 0-for-4, including a corner three-point try in the waning moments that hit the side of the backboard.
Jarred Vanderbilt made his Rupp Arena debut, which included a nasty dunk and six rebounds in 13 energized minutes before he ran out of steam. But at least both he and Green give Calipari options as he tinkers with combinations.
“The good news right now,” he said, “I’ve got a full roster. So if you’re not giving it this game, I can play somebody else.”
Fans have let it be known for much of the past few weeks that they’re not satisfied with how the Cats have been “giving it.”
And after “mostly yelling at us” after the game, according to Nick Richards, Calipari told the assembled media, “I’m good.
“I know there there’s some people out there that will be panicked and all this. Be panicked. I’m glad I’m not sitting with you because I am fine.”
Of course, his team is more than halfway through its schedule with NCAA Tournament seeding perched on the collective shoulder of every team with a realistic shot at the post season.
Calipari seems to be channeling Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers who, after some early struggles last season, advised Packer fans to “R-E-L-A-X.”
“We’re going to be fine,” the UK coach said. “I was worried after South Carolina, now. I was worried after Vanderbilt, to be honest with you, and we won that game. They stay the course and this is who we are, we’ll all be fine.”