The early season scouting report on beating Kentucky is pretty simple on paper: make them beat you from the outside. That is exactly what the sixteenth-ranked Louisville Cardinals tried to do on Saturday.
Kentucky made 11 of their 23 three point attempts for 47.8 percent.
Tyler Ulis played outstanding for the No. 12 ranked Wildcats scoring a team-high 21 points and dishing out a game-high 8 assists to go along with only one turnover. He has struggled with his shot so far this season, but today was much different. He hit 3 of 4 threes and 7 of 12 overall.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair as U of K jumped out to an early seven point lead only to have U of L come back and take the lead. It looked as if the Cardinals were in great shape going in to the half as Damion Lee made four consecutive free throws to put U of L up by four after a John Calipari technical foul with 2:52 remaining. However, little used reserve Dominique Hawkins nailed a three to bring the Wildcats to within one.
Momentum swung Kentucky’s way as Ulis went coast-to-coast for a layup to put them up by one. Then, out of nowhere, Rick Pitino received a technical foul for being out of the coaching box. Pitino, who did not speak to the organized media after the game, did speak to Louisville’s color analyst Bob Valvano after the game and had this to say about the technical, “I was upset at the officiating the first half, and I am not a technical guy. I said I am behind the lines every time. He is on the floor 15 times on every single call. You can’t give me a technical call for being out of the lines, I said it is ridiculous, it’s absurd.”
U of K closed out the first half with a 14 – 2 run to take a 44 – 36 lead to the half.
Damion Lee did all he could to bring the Cardinals back. Lee led all scorers with 27 points, but his off balance three at the end fell way short giving the Wildcats the two point win.
The stars for both teams showed up and played well, but it was the unsung players for both teams who changed the game, more importantly the ones for Kentucky. Hawkins was forced into playing time as starting guard Isaiah Briscoe hurt his ankle in the pre-game warmups. Hawkins, not known for his scoring, scored 13 points and hit 3 – 4 from three point range.
Donovan Mitchell came off the bench for the Cardinals and gave U of L great energy. Mitchell finished with eight points, five rebounds, and three assists.
Kentucky won this game today, but U of L knows it can play with any team in the country. There are a lot of what ifs for the Cardinals. What if they are completely healthy? What if Raymond Spalding maximizes his potential this season? What if Quentin Snider plays like he did in the NCAA tournament last season? These are not excuses, but just optimism of what this team’s potential is.
Louisville begins ACC play on Jan. 3 against Wake Forest.