LEXINGTON, KY. (AP) - Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel was scheduled for an MRI on his left knee Wednesday after X-rays were negative.
While the initial news was good for the Wildcats, they nervously await the results of the test on their star player.
The 6-foot-10 forward was hurt during No. 25 Kentucky’s 69-52 loss at No. 7 Florida on Tuesday night. Noel ran into the padded basket support with about eight minutes remaining after blocking Mike Rosario’s layup from behind.
He landed awkwardly on the leg, dropped to the floor and started screaming while clutching his knee. The top recruit left the arena in a wheelchair with his leg in a brace and was taken to a hospital for X-rays Tuesday night.
Noel returned home with the team.
The nation’s leading shot blocker at 4.5 per game coming in, Noel had eight points, six rebounds and three blocks before getting hurt.
“I’m physically sick right now for him,” coach John Calipari said after the game. “What I’m hoping is it’s not the extreme. I’m hoping it’s some sort of twist, but we don’t know.”
Noel’s injury comes just as defending national champion Kentucky (17-7, 8-3 Southeastern Conference) appeared to be gaining some footing after a lackluster start. The Wildcats began the week ranked for the first time since falling out Dec. 3 following consecutive losses to Notre Dame and Baylor.
Kentucky struggled early on in SEC play, losing to Texas A&M and Alabama, but had recovered to win a season-best five straight before Tuesday.
Noel’s stellar defense was a big reason for the Wildcats’ surge. He entered the game with three consecutive double-doubles and on a four-week run as the conference’s top freshman. In his previous five games, Noel had blocked 26 shots.
Not only does his injury throw Kentucky’s rotation into doubt with 7-foot freshman Willie Cauley-Stein as its only other big post player, but a lengthy absence seriously damages the Wildcats’ postseason chances.
“He’s a vital part of our team, so we hope for the best,” forward Kyle Wiltjer said.
Considered the nation’s top recruit last season, Noel led a four-man freshman class also including Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress that was expected to pick up where last year’s championship team left off. Noel has often been compared to national player of the year Anthony Davis because of his size and shot-blocking ability.
While Noel downplayed the comparison, he made clear his pursuit of breaking Davis’ single-season school record of 186 blocks set last year. A Kentucky-record 12 blocks during an 87-74 victory at Mississippi on Jan. 29 put him slightly ahead of Davis’ pace, which was set over 40 games.
More importantly, that game helped re-establish the Wildcats’ credentials as an NCAA tournament team.