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February 12, 2013GAINESVILLE, Fla. - It was the sort of play Nerlens Noel makes all the time. He'd turned the ball over, and Kentucky's freshman forward was intent on making amends.
So, with a little more than eight minutes to play Tuesday night at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, Noel chased down Florida guard Mike Rosario to swat a layup attempt off the backboard.
It's a play Noel has made before, an unsurprising effort even in a game that was by then almost out of reach and by the end was a 69-52 Florida rout.
This time, it went wrong.
Noel's left knee buckled, and he went the floor, writing in pain and screaming loudly enough to hear from 30 feet away.
John Calipari went to Noel's side. He didn't leave, and that was another sign something wasn't right.
"He was yelling and screaming, so that's why I stayed," Calipari said. "It's unfortunate. I just hope and pray that he's OK. But we're going to see."
On a night when No. 25 Kentucky was trounced in its biggest test of the season, the outcome was almost an afterthought. Calipari fielded more questions about Noel than anything else in his postgame news conference, though he offered few answers.
Noel, who had eight points, six rebounds and three blocked shots in 23 minutes, left the arena in a wheelchair. He was headed for the hospital, Calipari said, and was likely to travel back to Lexington with his teammates Tuesday night, but there was no immediate prognosis, nor any indication of how long Kentucky might be without him.
(UPDATE: UK announced Wednesday morning that X-rays were negative and he was scheduled to undergo an MRI. Further updates will be released when available.)
"We're not thinking about playing without Nerlens right now," teammate Julius Mays said. "We're just hoping for the best, and we look to have Nerlens for the rest of the season."
Even with him, the Cats (17-7, 8-3 Southeastern Confernece) were no match for No. 7 Florida on Tuesday. The Gators (20-3, 10-1) shot 49.1 percent, turned 17 Kentucky turnovers into 20 points, outscored the Cats 36-26 in the paint and controlled the game after its opening 12 minutes.
"Let's just tell you, my basketball team is OK," Calipari said. "This (Florida) basketball team is really good."
The Gators got 14 points from Scottie Wilbekin to lead five players in double figures. Mays and Willie Cauley-Stein had 10 each for Kentucky, which trailed by as many as 19.
The Cats shot 42 percent, made 4-of-12 three-pointers and had 11 assists to go with 17 turnovers. They struggled to defend Florida on the perimeter, couldn't get any offense going in the post and never put together a run to tighten the game in the second half.
"When you play a talented team that is very physical and plays aggressive and plays tough and plays off one another you have to focus for 40 minutes," Calipari said. "You can't give up on plays. We learned all that tonight, but we've learned it in other games where we've had 12-point leads, 16-point leads and you turn around and it's a two-point game."
So Kentucky will go back to the drawing board as it awaits word on Noel.
Florida center Patric Young told reporters that Noel's knee was "wobbly" and "looked dislocated," and said "I don't want to think about it," according to the Palm Beach Post's Jason Lieser.
Five of Noel's teammates helped carry him off the floor to an ovation from the crowd at the O'Connell Center.
"I don't know how bad he is hurt but the injury came form a hustle player and that embodies him as a player," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "It's sad if there is any duration to him being out because I think coaches admire the way he plays."