As I mentioned in an earlier article, this was very much a typical game between the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals — a lot of defense, a lot of fouls, a lot of contact and not much pretty basketball unless you are a fan (like I am) of defense. So for me, it was pretty sweet watching the Wildcats affect every shot, and unsurprising to see the Cardinals force Kentucky into a slog rather than their usual smooth run. It was a hard-fought game by both teams, and both teams gave everything they could muster. In a way, it was a very impressive thing to watch. It will take everybody a few days to get over the bruises and bumps from this one.
Louisville’s defense is frustratingly impenetrable, which is what we’ve all known for a long time. I’m not sure why it’s so tough, but it just gets into your head somehow, and looks like five guys with sticks out there swiping at you from five feet away and poking the ball loose. I have to give Rick Pitino credit — he may have developed the most formidable defense, as a system, of any coach in America. It puts Jim Boeheim’s zone to shame.
But defense isn’t enough in basketball, and never has been. You have to put the ball into the basket, and the Cardinals manifestly could not do that whatsoever. They tried with astonishing futility to do so, and if they weren’t such a bitter rival, I might’ve managed a tiny bit of regret at seeing so much organic energy expended so fruitlessly. But rival they are, and I was as pleased to see them lay enough bricks to build a life-size replica of Barad-dûr.
Kentucky struggled to score, but it was nothing like the impotence of Louisville. The biggest problem the Wildcats had was treating the basketball as if it were a greased pig on fire rather than an object you desire to possess. The result was a gobsmacking number of turnovers that, quite honestly, would likely have derailed the Wildcats against a more offensively efficient team. Against Louisville today, it merely slowed down what looked, if tenuously at times, to be the inevitable.
UK’s shooting wasn’t bad at all against the Cardinals’ tough defense. 48% is the second-highest Louisville has allowed all season from an opponent. Only Indiana’s 54% eFG in Bloomington was better.
Kentucky held the Cardinals to only 28% eFG. That’s by far their lowest output of the season.
I can’t be happy with the turnovers. I don’t really get why Kentucky had such a hard time holding on to the ball, and why they felt the need to try passes with a high degree of difficulty against one of the best defensive teams in the nation.
Rebounding was great. The offensive rebounding really helped offset the ridiculous number of turnovers, a fair number of which were unforced.
Kentucky fouled a lot. Overall, the officiating wasn’t bad, but I wish that UK had attacked the basket more efficiently in this game. I was really disappointed with the way we did it, which was mostly done in a brain-dead fashion riddled with turnovers.
Kentucky shared the ball well again. 54% assists.
Only 3 blocks for Kentucky? That’s just weak.
10% steals is not bad. It’s been better, but anything 10% and above is okay.
I am very happy with the grit of this UK team, particularly the freshmen in this game. Honestly, they played like upperclassmen.
Kentucky finally got into Louisville’s legs with about 7 minutes to go. It took a long time. Louisville’s endurance was impressive, and Pitino did a good job stealing minutes here and there for his starters.
Tyler Ulis had a terrific game, and gets well-deserved game ball honors. He led the team in scoring, he passed the ball well, and he didn’t turn the ball over. The Cardinals could not figure him out. He was incredibly efficient at 6-8 shooting.
Trey Lyles gets honorable mention. He was a stat-stuffer, getting not only 6 points on 3-6 shooting, but 9 rebounds and 4 assists against only 2 turnovers, plus a steal.
Karl-Anthony Towns was a man out there, and he played with the kind of physicality you rarely see in a skill-type big man. I was honestly surprised at just how physical he was down low. He had four turnovers, but also 10 points and 9 rebounds, including a team-high 5 OR’s
Wilie Cauley-Stein has had better games, although he played well. He had 6 rebounds and 3 steals to go along with his 5 points, but his minutes were limited by fouls. He still affected the game with his ridiculous athleticism, guarding perimeter players and using his length effectively. He also did a very good job on Montrezl Harrell.
Dakari Johnson didn’t score much, but he was a rebounding machine with 9 rebounds in only 11 minutes of play.
Marcus Lee had all three Kentucky blocks, and an impressive put-back dunk. He was also a factor with his length defensively.
I was really happy with what we got from Devin Booker. Despite his really stupid foul on Wayne Blackshear that could’ve put the game back in doubt, he was extremely efficient from the field, made his free throws, and I though played really well defensively.
Andrew Harrison struggled all day, but he still led the team in assists… and turnovers. Six turnovers is just offensive from Andrew. He made the three that put the game to a the largest lead of the day for the Wildcats at 50-38.
Aaron Harrison was inefficient and didn’t have a great game, but once again he made the big shot that put the game out of reach — a 3 with 1:00 left that put Kentucky up ten.
Tying it all up
This game may have looked messy, but to me, it was beautiful. Anytime you beat the Cardinals in the KFC YUM! Center, you have a worthwhile accomplishment on your hands. If you remember last season, this game was much, much more meaningful than it was this year, with Kentucky having dropped every one of their biggest early-season contests. The Louisville game was the one they needed to have a shot at a decent tournament seed. Indeed, had Kentucky lost that game, it’s possible they wouldn’t have made the NCAA Tournament at all after their weak finish in the SEC.
This year, it’s just another notch on the holster of this deep and talented Wildcats team. Contrary to a lot of the commentary I’ve heard, the SEC season is going to be plenty tough for Kentucky, even though other leagues are unquestionably tougher. There are a lot of things that can happen in a long season, and those penciling in Kentucky to be undefeated going into the NCAA Tournament should know better. It may happen, but it’s still not likely.
Finally, the biggest takeaway from this game is that there is nobody who is going to push this UK team around. Despite their relative youth, they took all the physical play that Louisville could deliver and did not quail. In fact, Kentucky delivered as much punishment inside as the Cardinals did, and that’s an accomplishment for a team playing their first road game in the most hostile environment they are likely to face all season.
So it’s on to the SEC season, and we’ll be waiting a while for the next game — a week from Tuesday against the Mississippi Rebels in Rupp Arena.