NCAA BK

Noel injures knee in loss at Florida

Image: Kentucky's Nerlens Noel (© Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)
Nerlens Noel goes down after crashing into the basket on a blocked shot.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)

Kentucky's Nerlens Noel rushed back on defense, blocked Mike Rosario's layup from behind and then awkwardly landed on his left leg.

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Too much too soon? Not for these first-year players.

He crashed into the basket support, dropped to the ground and started screaming as he clutched his left knee.

It may have been his final play of the season.

Noel, the nation's top shot-blocker, injured his knee with about 8 minutes to play in the 25th-ranked Wildcats' 69-52 loss to No. 7 Florida on Tuesday night.

''I'm physically sick right now for him,'' Kentucky coach John Calipari said. ''What I'm hoping is it's not the extreme. I'm hoping it's some sort of twist, but we don't know.''

Trainers rushed to Noel's side. A few minutes later, teammates carried him to the locker room as the home crowd cheered in support.

''We're all brothers, win, lose or draw,'' senior guard Julius Mays said. ''We've always got each other's backs.''

Noel was pushed through the hallways of the O'Connell Center in a wheelchair, with his left leg extended and in a brace. He was transported to Shands Hospital on Florida's campus for tests, but was expected to return with the team to Lexington, Ky.

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Noel had eight points, six rebounds and three blocks before getting hurt.

The freshman entered the game averaging 10.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.5 blocks.

Losing him for any period of time, let alone the rest of the season, would be a huge blow for a young team that had started to gel in recent weeks. The Wildcats (17-7, 8-3 SEC) had won five straight and seven of eight.

''He's a vital part of our team so we hope for the best,'' Kentucky forward Kyle Wiltjer said.

Florida (20-3, 10-1) held a comfortable lead before the injury.

The Gators opened a double-digit lead, 31-19, in the first half on consecutive 3-pointers by guards Scottie Wilbekin, Rosario and Kenny Boynton — backbreaking shots that frustrated Calipari and had his players looking dazed and confused.

Florida extended it to 16 points on Rosario's layup. It was the biggest deficit the Wildcats had faced all season.

And they did little to erase it.

Big men Pat Young and Erik Murphy, who was in early foul trouble, carried the load for the Gators 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.

''When he gives incredible effort and plays with a really good motor, he's capable of getting double-doubles every night,'' said Florida coach Billy Donovan, who improved to 2-7 against Calipari. ''He rebounded. He made great effort plays, kept balls alive. He did a really good job.''

Murphy drained a 3-pointer after taking a charge on the other end. He also had three blocks.

The Gators needed big games from Young and Murphy considering they played a second game without forward Will Yeguete and were undersized against the Wildcats.

Nonetheless, the difference was guard play.

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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.

''Our young guys looked like deer in headlights,'' Calipari said.

Kentucky really looked rattled after Noel's injury. It was all the talk after the game, too.

''His leg was wobbly, looked like his knee was dislocated,'' Florida's Young said. ''It was gruesome. I don't even want to think about it.''

Donovan felt for Noel, saying the way he plays makes coaches admire him.

''I don't know what ended up happening, but it was clear from him moaning in pain that he was struggling,'' Donovan said. ''I admire the way he plays and I admire his energy. I don't know how badly he's hurt, but the injury came from a hustle play. It kind of embodies who he is as a player.

''He's a hustle-play guy, and you just feel sad if there's any kind of length or duration that he's out because everybody admires in this league, coaches-wise, how he plays the game.''

Tagged: Kentucky, Florida, Mike Rosario, Erik Murphy, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete

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