Louisville Can’t Solve Kentucky’s Defense, Lose 58 – 50 – So far this season No. 1 Kentucky has won all 13 games it has played. None of the Wildcats’ opponents have been able to solve the suffocating defense Kentucky has played.
No. 4 Louisville became the latest victim. Kentucky held Louisville to 25.9 percent shooting and just one assist. The Cardinals made only one of their 14 three-pointers.
Neither team set the nets on fire during the first half. Kentucky was just 10 of 27 and Louisville 6 of 28. Kentucky led 22 – 18 at the half.
The referees seemed to let the teams play in the first half calling a total of 11 fouls. This seemed to cater to Louisville, but the Cardinals just couldn’t make enough shots. They were in Rick Pitino’s words, “offensively challenged”.
“I’ll tell you the truth. We missed about eight to ten easy shots. That’s a credit to them, but also we’re a little offensively challenged. We’ve had this problem the whole year. We’re working very hard at it.” Pitino said after the game.
The starting backcourt for Louisville, which many considered their biggest strength, struggled to get anything going. Terry Rozier and Chris Jones were 2 of 13 in the first half. Jones missed all six of his shots in the half.
The second half would not get any better for Rozier and Jones. They combined to make only 8 of their 33 attempts for the game.
With a number of NBA scouts in attendance, many wanting to see how Louisville junior forward Montrezl Harrell would perform against NBA caliber opposition, Harrell did not have his best game. Harrell scored nine points and grabbed eight rebounds.
Pitino made his game plan clear saying, “We wanted to go in to Montrezl Harrell as much as possible, but they did a very good job denying it. Their length is pretty incredible.”
This was a matchup of the two top defensive teams in the country. Kentucky’s defense was great the entire game. Louisville’s was just as solid for most of the game however, Kentucky’s depth wore the Cardinals down. Pitino said, “We’re an excellent defensive team, although we had 18 deflections in the first half, only seven in the second half and they shot 47 percent. Their size really wore us down. We don’t have much of a bench right now. Getting (freshman forward) Shaqquan (Aaron) back, that’ll help us. They don’t have to worry about foul trouble, they’ve got a bench that can wear you down with their size. I think they wore down our defense in the second half.”
As is the case in a number of rivalry games, the stars you expect to shine are not always the ones to shine. With Harrell’s and Willie Cauley-Stein’s struggles (five points and four fouls), Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis was the star of the game.
Ulis controlled the game in a way starting point guard Andrew Harrison could not. Harrison scored three points and committed six turnovers. Ulis, on the other hand, scored a season high 14 points and committed no turnovers against a tough Louisville defense.
Pitino gave glowing reviews after the game on Ulis saying, “I think he’s a great basketball player. He’s probably, you know, because they have so many bigs, but he’s a true point guard who makes people better. I’ve loved him from the moment I started watching him. I do think he’s a great point guard. That’s a program that you can build around having a great point guard.”
This was Louisville’s first loss of the season in 12 games. It is not the end of the world as some fans would believe. It is a tough loss, but the season is still early. Where do they go from here? Only time will tell. They have questions to answer just as all teams have when they lose a game.
The Cardinals return to the KFC Yum Center on Tuesday December 30 to face off against Long Beach State. Game time has been moved up to 4:00 to accommodate the football team’s bowl game against Georgia at 6:30.
*The attendance for today’s game of 22,812 was the third largest in the KFC Yum Center’s history.
*Louisville’s total of one assist was the lowest of a ranked team in 19 years.
*The game’s total of 108 points was the fewest in the modern day portion of the series.
Rick Pitino Post Game Comments
Kentucky Stays Perfect in 58 – 50 Win – Prior to Kentucky’s top five matchup against in-state rival Louisville, coach John Calipari made sure to let us know that this was the Wildcats’ first true road game of the season. And this is just not any road game, this is the road game of Kentucky’s most hated rival – Louisville. There would be 22,000 plus, the majority of which would boo and yell at anything in blue. How would his young team handle the vitriol that comes with this rivalry?
They handled it pretty well in front of the third largest crowd (22.812) in the history of the KFC Yum Center. Fans saw the top ranked Kentucky Wildcats suit up against the No. 4 ranked Louisville Cardinals in a matchup of heavyweights. It was Kentucky that would hold on the longest and deliver the knockout punch in a 58 – 50 slugfest.
The young guys and the most unexpected were the ones to handle it the best. Tyler Ulis and Devon Booker combined to play 54 minutes and not commit a single turnover against Louisville’s vaunted pressure defense. They combined to score 23 points.
Ulis’ performance was made even more important with the struggles of starting point guard Andrew Harrison (three points and six turnovers). Ulis made several big shots in the second half, but more importantly controlled the game for the Wildcats. Calipari said of Ulis, “He was really good today. That’s the best I’ve seen him play since I’ve coached him.”
The physicality of the game was evident in the first half as Ulis took an inadvertent elbow from Chris Jones. Ulis patched it up with two thin bandages and then led the Wildcats to victory. Calipari had this to say on what attracted him to Ulis coming out of high school, “His competitiveness. He can make a difference in the game even at his size, and that’s what you want. He wasn’t afraid of the challenge.”
Devon Booker was known simply as a scorer in high school. He certainly wasn’t known for any type of defense and according to Calipari, “I did not think Devin Booker could guard the way he’s guarding. In high school, he shot every ball. He didn’t guard much and I thought that would be the Achilles heel.”
Booker helped lead a Kentucky defense hold Louisville to a season-low 25.9 percent from the field. They held the Cardinals’ starting backcourt of Terry Rozier and Chris Jones to 8 of 33 shooting. Even the shots that went in for the Rozier and Jones were not easy ones.
Numerous NBA scouts were on hand to see Montrezl Harrell and Willie Cauley-Stein. Neither of them had their best game. Harrell finished with nine points and eight rebounds while Cauley-Stein was saddled with foul trouble and finished with only five points.
Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns were also not fazed by the crazed atmosphere. Lyles finished with six points and four assists. Towns scored ten points and grabbed nine rebounds.
Louisville native Jennifer Lawrence was on hand to watch this matchup from Tom Jurich’s suite at center court. She knows a thing or two about good acting (Chris Jones), as well as a good performance all together. This was not Kentucky’s most complete game, but it did show that this defense can take this team very far. Will it take them to perfection on the season? Who knows. They have certainly solidified themselves as the number one team in the country.
Kentucky will be off until it returns to Rupp Arena on January 6 to face off against Mississippi at 7:00.
Coach Calipari Post Game Comments