The Good: Tyler Ulis and Dominique Hawkins
I'll be the first to admit, when Isaiah Briscoe injured his ankle in pre-game warmups and was going to miss the game, I began to worry. This game makes me nervous each year and knowing Briscoe would be out heightened my sense of anxiety for this game.
Coach Calipari's "Next Man Up" challenge was accepted by none other than Kentucky native Dominique Hawkins. Hawkins played his best game as a Wildcat, hitting 3-4 from behind the arc and 4-6 from the free throw line. I'm almost certain that the UofL coaching staff did not plan on Hawkins beating them from behind the arc, due to his 17 percent three-point percentage.
Hawkins played incredible defense throughout the game, consistently challenging and frustrating Louisville's backcourt duo of Damion Lee and Trey Lewis.
However, the star of the game was none other than Tyler Ulis. Ulis has struggled since injuring his elbow earlier in the season, but something about the Louisville game brings out the best in Ulis. He scored 14 points last year in the Cats' victory, but outdid himself this year, scoring 21 points while dishing eight assists and only turning the ball over only once despite constantly dealing with the Cardinals' full-court press.
Ulis was 7-12 from the floor, including 4-7 from the three-point line (including this one from WAY out there ) to go along with 3-4 from the free throw line.
Undoubtedly, Tyler Ulis is the most integral part of this team and his performance in the Louisville game showed just that.
The Bad: Skal and Murray Struggle
Skal's struggles continued in the Louisville game. He provided virtually nothing for the Cats, going 0-3 from the field with two points and three rebounds. Skal continues to struggle and I'm beginning to believe that Skal's problems lie more on the mental side than the physical side. His confidence is low and in wake of the anonymous scout ripping him and Cal's response, now is the time for the Big Blue Nation to rally around Skal and encourage him. I believe Skal has a ton of potential and can be a really good player, but he is not going to be the immediate success that we have grown accustomed to with past Kentucky big men in the Cal Era. He isn't Anthony Davis or Nerlens Noel or Willie Cauley-Stein. He is a different kind of player that needs time to develop physically and get his head cleared. Sadly, in today's college basketball environment, at a place like Kentucky, that is not what anybody wants/expects.
On the other side, Jamal Murray struggled mightily in the Louisville game, which came as a surprise coming off of his red-hot performance in the second half against Ohio State. Murray finished 3-14 (3-8 from behind the arc) and combined seven turnovers with just two assists. He struggled to attack the Cardinals zone defense and in the process, turned the ball over several times. To his credit, he did hit several key three-pointers in the second half that were big-time shots, but struggled to consistently hit shots throughout the game.
The UGLY: Rick Pitino
Now to the part that everyone is talking about. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino handled the loss in a less-than-gracious way. After his team battled back from a double-digit deficit and played pretty well for the most part of the game, Rick's post-game behavior has taken all the attention from his team's play and placed it squarely on his shoulders.
Most of you have probably seen the initial video, but one from another (slightly better) angle surfaced today of Pitino "flipping off" the crowd as he was exiting the court. This is inexcusable behavior from a Hall of Fame coach. What made it even worse was the COMPLETELY BOGUS explanation Pitino offered hours later.
Sorry Rick, nobody is buying that you were signaling that "your team is number one" after being defeated by Kentucky for the seventh time in your last eight tries. Just own up to it. Even immature middle school kids who have pulled that trick for years realize the ridiculousness of that.
Then, Pitino attempted to explain why he completely avoided the post-game press conference, where the associate head coach was sent in his place. THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE PAID MONEY FOR. That's why you have a $6 million contract. Not to flip off the crowd and avoid talking to the media. That's not what a head coach does. Pitino's actions show a complete lack of responsibility and leadership. The University of Louisville should (but likely will not) reprimand him for his actions.
On top of that, his explanation for why he avoided the press after the game was completely bogus as well. Pitino said that he had told the SID and others, 24 hours in advance, that he would not meet with the press after the game. If that's the case, why so much confusion about his non-appearance from the people he notified?
And the Kentucky game is too overwhelming? Are you kidding? That's why you're the head coach of Louisville. To handle these type of games. The man continues to baffle me.
Rick Pitino acted horribly after the game and stole the spotlight from Cardinal players such as Damion Lee, Chinanu Onuaku, and Donovan Mitchell who played really well. It's just inexcusable.
And for all of this, Rick Pitino deserves the "UGLY" award for overshadowing what was one of the better UK-UL games in recent times.