The game plan was in place. The energy and attention to it from our players was apparent. We were hungry for that win and our play demonstrated it for most of the basketball game. But down the stretch, like SIX other times this season, for whatever reason (aka: excuse), we didn’t execute well enough and make enough winning plays to walk back to our locker room with a W. Give me whatever excuse you’d like, Regardless, we lost and the sickness we all felt after Kentucky has worsened to valleys deeper then I have ever experienced after a regular-season loss.
Entering the basketball game, our main focus was to play better. To do so, we talked at length about the defensive schemes necessary to limit Florida’s ability to reverse the sides of the floor with the ball. This worked great as we limited their post touches, got passing-lane steals and bothered their ball handlers with our ball pressure…until the final few minutes. Offensively, we followed our winning formula of scoring early or scoring late. Our guys did a great job of limiting our turnovers, driving the ball to the rim, and executing our play calls…. until the final few minutes.
Rewatching the final few minutes of that game is heartbreaking. Without a doubt it hurts that we didn’t come home with a win against a very good Florida team. But, the part that kills me the most is that WE messed up on things that we have either gone over time and time again in practice, or discussed in our preparation for this game. Don’t get me wrong, in a lot of ways Florida did things that caused us to make the wrong play. But honestly, this one hurts so stinkin bad because WE lost that game. Florida didn’t do things the majority of the night to beat us; we did. Our poor plays, our turnovers, our lack of defensive rotation, our lack of communication, missed free throws and our lack of execution in the final few minutes were just a few of the reasons of why we lost that game.
With that said, we wouldn’t even have been in position to win that game if we didn’t have some elevated play tonight. A lot of guys showed up with their hard hats on ready to put in whatever work was necessary to help us get that win. The way Cam and Scotty attacked the rim; outscoring Florida in the paint because of guys like Brian finishing around the rim; and for the most part we played really good defense led by Mel and Josh Bone’s great ball pressure and energy. But after that ending, there was no time for sugar coating our emotions. Every player to ever staff member was dejected after that game. None moreso than Coach Pearl.
I have been around him for more than nine years and in the locker room after that game is as angry, frustrated and irritated as I have ever seen Coach Pearl. Having played for him, there are two things I learned you don’t do if you want to play for Coach Pearl; you don’t get outworked by your opponent or mess up one of his offensive play calls. I thought our effort was good tonight but it was the poor (and by “poor” I mean absent) execution of the last play that had him fuming. After the game in the locker room he screamed at them, redrew up the play, screamed at them some more and then some more as he went over every intricate detail of the play, stressing when we learned it, how often we do it (every day), etc. He went on to “talk” about how we should be in this locker room celebrating a great win because of our elevated play and the injuries we overcame. Instead, as he said, we are in here all disappointed having beaten ourselves.
As he does after every win or loss, Coach discussed where we go from here. But this time, it was much shorter. The only thing he said is that each and every one of us, staff included, needs to go home, point our own finger at the middle of our own chest and ask ourselves, “What can I do better to help this team win?” If we all do that, our team has a chance to turn this ship around, play better basketball and get a win on Wednesday.
Coach Pearl closed–although he wants this loss to burn and eat at us—by saying he doesn’t want to see anybody having pity parties. Sure it hurts, but there is no time to dwell on the pain we are all feeling. Instead, with the utmost urgency, it’s time to fix it. Now more then ever, our Vol Family needs to focus on the necessary steps to overcome and beat what’s in front of us and stay together. If we do so, we will finally capture #16.