The gift that keeps on giving came five days after Christmas, as the Kentucky Wildcats visited the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday afternoon. Their annual match-up on the basketball court makes for one of the best games each season, nation wide.
Before the season started, Cardinals first-year head coach Chris Mack was believed to need 1-2 years to rebuild a program that was in an extremely dark place. However, heading into Saturday’s game, Mack’s team was 9-3 with a win over Michigan State early in the year.
Kentucky, though, was 9-2 and playing their best basketball of the season. Opening as a one-point road favorite, the Wildcats were clearly the superior team from start to finish en route to a 71-58 win.
A Herro Saves the Day
Before tip-off, one would have been wise to guess Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington or Reid Travis would lead the Wildcats to a potential victory. Even Ashton Hagans, after his record-tying eight steals last weekend, would have been a candidate.
With those four headlining players to watch, freshman shooting guard Tyler Herro somehow slipped under the radar. Averaging 12 points per game on the season, he quickly surpassed that mark with 14 in the first half. Herro took over early by scoring the rock from all angles, aiding Kentucky’s 35-27 halftime lead.
Tyler Herro continues to etch his name in UK-UL game lore. pic.twitter.com/s48XoJUgaj— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 29, 2018
The star freshman added ten more in the second half to total 24 for the game, as Kentucky needed every bit of it with no one else finding much rhythm on offense. Going into the final minutes, Keldon Johnson was the only other double-digit scorer at 15, though Ashton Hagans got into double figures with some late buckets.
More exemplary defense by Tyler Herro leads to the Ashton Hagans fast break layup. pic.twitter.com/FOJ6UzPG5m— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 29, 2018
As Herro finds a consistent niche making shots, Kentucky’s ability to compete will only improve.
Tyler Herro continues his huge game. pic.twitter.com/0RF2cwqoAL— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 29, 2018
Mr. Washington Does it Again
PJ Washington’s game against North Carolina last weekend involved a sprinkle of everything. The sophomore contributed a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds but also included eight assists and two blocks.
Keldon Johnson slams the lob from PJ Washington. pic.twitter.com/rwmO5ElLcU— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 29, 2018
This time, Washington went for five points, eight rebounds, three assists and four blocks. He may have not done much offensively, but he was an absolute beast defensively in this one. His impact on defense was the perfect compliment to Tyler Herro’s offense, and this recipe led to a very impressive road win.
PJ Washington pins it! pic.twitter.com/H9CZHXUI4R— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 29, 2018
Washington’s ability to answer whatever bell head coach John Calipari rings, as well lead the huddle alongside Reid Travis, has been invaluable for the Wildcats this season. His play as the season moves along will certainly reflect the outcome of Kentucky’s games.
Can You Call This a “Rivalry?”
Of course you can call Kentucky-Louisville a rivalry. When the Cardinals and Wildcats are playing any sport, it’s absolutely worth tuning in. However, Kentucky has won 10 of their last 12 meetings against Louisville on the basketball court.
Winning 83% of your meetings since Calipari arrives at your school is almost unfathomable. The push back Calipari receives from fans regarding the “one-and-done” atmosphere is one thing, but his in-state success deserves better recognition than simply calling it a “rivalry.”
Keldon Johnson. Exclamation point. pic.twitter.com/UGgcZnpSiO— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 29, 2018
They’re Back, But Did They Ever Leave?
Kentucky’s season-opening loss to Duke was disastrous on multiple fronts. In fact, the result dropped them eight spots in the following week’s AP Top-25. Their inconsistent play continued a landslide down the rankings, all the way to 19th.
However, Kentucky’s followed their controlling win over North Carolina last week with the same result in their first true road game at Louisville to bolster their resume. The Wildcats had a bit of turmoil before they found their identity, but the past two games seem to have proved just how great they can be.
Next up will be the Alabama Crimson Tide, as Kentucky opens SEC play on January 5th.