Gainesville, FLA – The Kentucky Wildcats could have lost more than the game last night against Florida as Nerlens Noel, the nation’s leading shot-blocker, injured his left knee in the second half and did not return. Noel flew back to Lexington with the team, and the extent of his injury will be updated today.
Scottie Wilbekin had 14 points and eight assists, Pat Young recorded his sixth double-double of the season and No. 7 Florida handled No. 25 Kentucky 69-52 on Tuesday night.The Gators (20-3, 10-1 Southeastern Conference) snapped a five-game losing streak in the series, and coach Billy Donovan improved to 2-7 against Kentucky’s John Calipari.
This one solidified Florida’s spot atop the league standings.
Noel, a freshman who averages 10.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.5 blocks a game for the defending national champions, landed awkwardly on his leg with about 8 minutes to play. He screamed in pain as trainers rushed to his side. Teammates carried him to the locker room for tests.
Florida had a comfortable lead before the injury.
The Gators opened a double-digit lead, 31-19, in the first half on consecutive 3-pointers by Wilbekin, Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton. Young and fellow big man Erik Murphy, who was in early foul trouble, carried the load in the second half.
Young made a basket with a nifty, up-and-under move, had a reverse layup and added a sweet, left-handed hook. He finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.
The Gators knew he had to have a big game considering they played a second game without forward Will Yeguete and were undersized against the Wildcats. But the difference was guard play.
Wilbekin sliced through the lane at will, creating open shots for teammates and getting Kentucky’s players out of position. Noel, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein spent time on the bench in foul trouble.
Rosario finished with 12 points for Florida, which has won every conference game by double digits. Murphy chipped in 10 points, and Casey Prather added 12 points and two blocks and took several charges, proving again to be a capable replacement for Yeguete.
Cauley-Stein and Julius Mays led Kentucky with 10 points apiece. The Wildcats shot 42 percent from the field and had 17 turnovers.
Calipari warned reporters Monday that beating Florida would be a difficult task, especially since the Gators have played so well at home (12-0 now) and have a much more experienced roster.
The most significant disparities came in the paint and off turnovers. The Gators scored 36 points in the paint and 20 points off turnovers; the Wildcats had 26 points down low and just five off Florida’s 11 turnovers.
Kentucky returns to action on Saturday when they face Tennessee in Knoxville.