The Kentucky Wildcats typically have a hard-fought clash with the Louisville Cardinals,
The first half was a back-and-forth affair that saw both teams seemingly take control with big runs. UK opened the game on a 13-4 run thanks to a red-hot start by Tyler Ulis, but UL responded with a 20-6 run of their own to take command.
The Cats would respond by catching fire late in the half and go on a 25-12 run to end the half and take a 44-26 lead at the break. UL would respond with a late run of their own to make this a game that came down to the wire.
But just has been the case in most of their recent clashes, UK was able to prevail with a 75-73 win over UL that was easily one of the best games in this series in recent memory.
Here's a look at our quick takeaways from the game.
Injury Bug Continues to be Pest
The Cats have been plagued with injuries throughout this season, and that continued in this game before it even began. Isaiah Briscoe rolled his ankle during pregame warmups, and it was bad enough that he was held out for the game. That was a big loss as Briscoe has been a great defender, a good driver and if nothing else, would have given the Cats another five fouls in a game that's typically full of them.
Considering the Cats only won this game by two, it may be safe to think the margin would have been much more comfortable had they had Briscoe on the offensive and defensive end.
Murray Almost Costs Cats
One thing Rick Pitino-coached teams have typically done well is slowing down a team's best offensive player. That held true in this game as the Cards held him in check for much of this game after Murray scored 33 in his last game. Murray didn't even have a field goal until the 13-minute mark in the second half.
Murray finished the game having hurt the Cats more than he helped as he scored 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting with seven turnovers. UL made sure Murray wouldn't beat them, and he ended up almost beating the Cats.
to be fair, Murray did a hit a late three-pointer that helped the Cats escape with a narrow win, so he did end up making a big play that helped the Cats win, but his poor play to that point was a big reason why UL was even within striking distance.
Kentucky Boys Step Up
With Briscoe down, the Cats weren't going to have any chance of winning this game without some of their normal benchwarmers giving them something. That became even more evident when Murray was held in check as Louisville made sure he never got going offensively.
That's where the Kentucky boys came in and stepped up in the Bluegrass rivalry game they know as well as anyone how important it is to the state. Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis came in and scored 11 points in the first half to help the Cats take a seven-point lead into halftime.
Hawkins would also score the Cat's final five points and as two combined for 16 points in a game that was decided by two points. It's safe to say they were the unsung heroes of this game.
But Ulis was MVP
There's really no question who the best player on the court was today for either squad. Tyler Ulis had another signature performance at the expense of Louisville as he went off for a team-high 21 points to go with a game-high eight assists. He was frequently making big plays when UK needed them most, both on offense and defense:
Tyler Ulis, 5'9, rejecting fastbreak layups at the rim https://t.co/SrGiiJEFHv— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) December 26, 2015
Ulis is really fun to watch https://t.co/WxzSlv2c2J— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) December 26, 2015
Tyler Ulis channeling Steph Curry today. https://t.co/ZSyHnKn0BD— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) December 26, 2015
The Cats have one eight of the past nine matchups with UL, but Ulis is the reason they've won the last two.
Cal Technical Sparks Run
The Cats had their biggest run of this game following a controversial foul on Murray in the first half that Damion Lee drew. It looked like nothing, and John Calipari was irate to the point he was called for a technical by Pat Adams.
Between the 2:36 mark in the first half and the 17:53 mark in the second half, Kentucky went on a 22-2 run to take a 16-point lead in the second half. That was what essentially decided the game as it gave UK a lead they would never relinquish, even though the game came right down to the wire.