Well, that was fun.
The Louisville Cardinals gave an absolutely outstanding effort. They played hard, they tried every trick in the book. They took no prisoners and they asked no quarter. I like that in a team, and even if their fans are a bit raw about the scrum in the first half that resulted in three technical fouls (two against Louisville, and one against Kentucky), the Cardinals team gave a good account of themselves, just as I expected they would. In fact, they had a chance to win the game, but as you see so often in games where the home team gets a big early lead and the visitor makes a big comeback, they simply could not sustain it.
This was a game of raw emotion, and overcoming raw emotion. To my surprise, either Calipari had this team in a ridiculously high place coming into this game, or the players simply let the hype and the smack talk get the best of them. Either way, this was by far the most intensity and physicality I have seen out of this young Kentucky team on both ends of the floor. I can't say for sure whether it was good or bad, because excess intensity is never good. In the end, though, the Kentucky Wildcats prevailed, and bottom line, that's all that matters.
I must discuss the Cousins episode, because it is out there, and we can't ignore it. College basketball, these days at least, has become excessively physical. Cousins actions in the scrum was hardly unprecedented in scrums like that, but there is no doubt it was over the top. I think the officials, judging by the standard set in the Kentucky versus Duke game in 1992, made the correct call.
Cousins unquestionably made unnecessary and excessive contact with bad intentions. But in the Duke game, as in this game, no players were ejected. Whether you think he should have been, or not, I think the standard set by that game was properly applied today. I pass no judgment on the officiating -- they saw what we saw, and their decision was consistent with 1992. Whether it should have been or not is up to the reader to decide. Myself, I figure what is good for the goose is good for the gander. This time, Kentucky was the goose. Sorry, Cardinals -- you have a right to complain, but I should warn you that it has done us no good for 18 years. I guarantee the result will be identical for you.
Moving on, I want to briefly comment on Rick Pitino's press conference. It was simply spectacular. Not only did I agree with every word out of his mouth, he specifically declined to blame anyone for the loss, and did so without any double entendres or obvious sarcasm. It was, on balance, flawless, and under the circumstances, remarkable. My respect for Rick Pitino just rose substantially, and it was already pretty high with respect to his coaching ability, at least.
More after the jump.
Obviously, I am pleased with the outcome, but less than pleased with the execution. Kentucky should have buried the Cardinals under a fusillade of points in the first half, but either by dint of great Cardinal defense or inept UK offense, they did not. I would guess it was a bit of both.
I am wild about the fact that UK set a new Rupp Arena attendance record with this game. That's how it should be, and Kentucky should manage to get one more patron in every year from now on when the game is at Rupp.
I have nothing but praise for the Cardinals. They played hard, they never gave up, and they came from behind to make this game very competitive and interesting. Yes, they got down huge early, but due to some bizarre UK miscues and some good play, they managed to recover from the worst of it all and turn this into a very entertaining ball game.
Here are my observations:
- 18 points, 18 rebounds for Big Cuz, but he could have gotten himself ejected after 1 and 2. I hope he learns something from this game. Even in the scrum, you have to avoid excessive contact.
Patrick Patterson was terrific. I know you think he didn't get enough rebounds, but that is more a sign of experience than anything else. Cousins just sucks up every rebound available, and Patrick has learned just to set sail for the opposing goal when a shot is missed. That's why he gets so many wide open dunks. 17 points and 4 rebounds
John Wall was great at times, and awful at times. In the first half in particular, he did some weird stuff. But in the second half, he was really clutch. His defense was as good today as it is likely to get.
- Darius Miller was MIA today. 'Nuff said.
- How huge was Ramon Harris? Any of you that read this blog regularly know that I love this guy, but today, he didn't make a huge impact on the stats. But oh, what an impact he made on the game with a huge three late in the second half. When a guy like Harris sees 23 minutes on a team as talented as this, you know there is a reason.
- Daniel Orton had one big block, but other than that, he was not effective today.
- Game ball, Eric Bledsoe. His defense on Edgar Sosa in the second half was the difference in the game.
- Color me impressed by Jared Swopshire. He was outmanned by Patterson, but without him, the Cardinals were bird nest soup.
- The combination of Cuz and Orton held Samardo Samuels to only 3-7 all day. Great post defense.
In the end, this was about the game we should have expected. I admit, I am surprised at the emotionalism of the players considering most of Kentucky's guys were freshmen, but in the end, it served them well.
Breathe deep the vapour of victory, Wildcat fans. You don't have to listen to any smack at all from the Red Ones this year.