Following a turnover, the freshman forward furiously pursued Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin. Making up ground with his long strides and characteristic hustle in the open court, Noel saved a sure basket with his 106th block of the season. But that's when things took a turn.
After landing awkwardly around the basket support, Noel lay in visible pain clutching his left knee. He remained on the floor for a few minutes, receiving medical attention from Kentucky's training staff. Eventually, he was carried off the floor by his teammates in a moving display of camaraderie in the face of awful circumstances.
"We're all brothers," said Julius Mays. "Win, lose or draw, we always got each other's back."
At the moment Noel went down, UK had cut a Florida lead that had ballooned to as many as 19 points to just 57-45 with 8:03 left. Perhaps still reeling from Noel's injury and certainly without his tone-setting presence, chances of a comeback were eliminated as the Wildcats (17-7, 8-3 Southeastern Conference) fell to the No. 7 Gators (20-3, 10-1 SEC), 69-52.
The thoughts of the Cats and UK fans alike are surely more focused on the fallen star, who was taken to Shands Hospital at the University of Florida for examination after the game. As of Tuesday night, no update on his status was available.
"We just all as a team got together and prayed for him for a minute and then sent him to the hospital," Calipari said.
"We don't know yet."
While he awaits word on the extent of his injury, all Coach Cal can do is hope and pray for the best. He's not alone in that sentiment.
"I'm physically sick right now for him, and if it were a walk-on, I'd be sick for that young man, too," Calipari said. "What I'm hoping is it's not the extreme. Hoping it's some sort of twist, but again, we don't know."
Calipari went on to say that he expects Noel to travel with the team back to Lexington on Tuesday night, which UK later confirmed in a statement. He didn't see Noel's injury up close, but reported that he was told it "looked ugly." Before a final diagnosis, speculation is futile though.
"We're not thinking about playing without Nerlens right now," said Mays, who scored 10 points. "We're just hoping for the best."
No matter what, the season will go on. Calipari said the Cats will have more physical practices to prepare for whatever comes next even though future opponents don't figure be as tough as the Gators in the O'Connell Center.
"We need to learn from this the best we can and just stay positive and just be ready to work hard in practice and improve as a team," Kyle Wiltjer said.
Calipari's postgame press conference