By LARRY VAUGHT
Three weeks ago Kentucky seemed on its way to a likely No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and Southeastern Conference championship.
Today the Cats are coming off a 22-point beating at Florida that dropped them to third in the SEC and have lost three of the last four games to fall out of the top 10 in the national rankings.
“It’s weird. We’re a young team, never been in a situation like this. Just have to fight through it. It’s just a weird situation right now,” Kentucky freshman guard Malik Monk said.
Assistant coach Tonby Barbee had a different feeling about the team mood Monday going into tonight’s game against LSU in Rupp Arena.
“I think we are in a great mood, but we’re ornery right now. Nobody wants to play, perform or have an outcome like we had at Florida, but it’s an opportunity to learn. Every team in the country, whether you’re No. 1 in the country or you’re 356th in the country, every team is going to have an ebb and flow to their season,” Barbee said.
“Every game is a learning opportunity, and that’s how we look at it. We came in this morning, we had a great film session with the guys; showed them where we did some good things and showed them where we did some things that cost us some different possessions that could have changed the way the outcome of the game went, but take nothing away from Florida.
“They responded to their home court and their home-court advantage that they had, and they played. But there were still some things we saw on the tape that we could have done better offensively and defensively that we’ve done in the past. We just have to get back to what we were doing.”
Kentucky fans are not patient and many have been unhappy with the losing and Monk laughing on the bench at the end of the game when Florida students sang happy birthday to him.
“We don’t buy into that. We are around Malik every day and we know how much he cares about winning and what it means to him. He knows he didn’t play his best on both ends of the floor in that game,” Barbee said. “I can see – not to excuse any of it – but I could see where it’s your birthday, you’re on the road and the opposing team’s student section starts singing you happy birthday. That could throw you off a little bit. But it still did not take away from how the loss hurt him.”
Count freshman center Bam Adebayo as one not surprised that UK fans are upset with the losses.
“I’m not surprised because it’s a tradition here. They’re used to winning,” Adebayo said. “We still have high confidence because it’s not the end of the world. It’s not the end of the season. We still have a couple more games left. We still have high hopes.
“We’re just going through a phase right now. We’re humans. We’re just going through the phases and we’ll get back on track.”
So what is wrong with the team?
“That’s what we have to figure out right now. Today we got time for that. Play tomorrow. Then we got a couple more practices. We got time to figure it out, so that’s what we gotta figure out,” Monk said Monday.
Adebayo ventured a guess as to what has been wrong.
“Our energy and enthusiasm. Just coming out with that intensity. Every game matters. We came out a little lackadaisical in our last games and it hurt us,” he said.
That included getting beat 54-29 on the boards.
“We were missing shots that we should have made and they were just making all of their’s. That’s pretty much how you sum up rebounding,” Adebayo said.