At the 11:54 media timeout of the opening half, the Louisville Cardinals had not scored for 5:45, missed their last eight field goal attempts, had given up an 0-5 run to Kentucky, and were behind 6-9.
But something eerily telling about the game’s outcome had already become evident.
The Wildcats had committed 6 fouls. Louisville would be in the bonus the rest of the half.
Because I am a diehard Cardinal fan as well as a conscientious reporter of the action, along with copious game notes on a legal pad, I also jot down in all caps along the margin, admonitions and exhortations.
Here’s what I wrote at the early juncture of the rivalry tussle: “MAKE FTS WIN GAME.”
In my mind, I was invoking a personal spirit force I call the Two Arts. That would be Arthur Kaplan, my father who introduced me to Cardinal hoops, and with whom I sat at games for the last 11 years of his life. And Art Zubrod, who had the seats right behind us in Freedom Hall.
They were obsessive about the importance of accepting the charity of freebies.
“Make the first one” still rings in my ears whenever a Cardinal steps to the stripe.
And so, sigh, it came to pass. Or, actually, didn’t.
Though it is a somewhat simplistic breakdown of how UK’s 78-70 win evolved — there were obviously other factors including the Wildcats tougher play and execution during critical moments — had U of L made its free throws, it would have won the game.
“Obviously a great college basketball game. Tough for us, the demise of our team was simply our free-throw shooting. Had we rung the bell from the free-throw line, I think the game is different.”
Those were the first words out of Cardinal coach Chris Mack’s mouth at the post game press conference.
Let’s also be clear. He went on to give Kentucky the credit it’s due for the win.
* * * * *
With 11:43 to play in regulation, U of L had surged from 12 behind to only down one at 40-41.
We’ll get to how that comeback was fashioned in a moment.
First, a quick look at part of what happened from that juncture until a couple potential Wildcat winners bounced off the rim, sending the tilt to OT at 61.
At the 9:33 mark, Steven Enoch connected on a trey, giving the Cardinals a 46-45 lead.
After another strong defensive stop by Louisville, Enoch missed from short range. Jordan Nwora was fouled going for the offensive rebound.
He missed both FTs that would have put the Cards up three.
A bit later, after Immanuel Quickley drained two at the line, Malik Williams was fouled at 6:48 while attempting a shot.
He missed both FTs that would have pulled the Cards within a deuce.
Later Nwora missed the first of two attempts at the stripe. Had he made both, U of L would have been up 56-55 with 2:43 to play.
In the last 11:43 of regulation, Louisville, hitting 74.7% of freebies coming in, made just 2 of 7.
* * * * *
In extra minutes, the story was the same.
U of L was 2/5 at the stripe.
While Kentucky drained 8/9.
* * * * *
Louisville led 68-65 with 2:21 to go in OT, after Jordan Nwora made his only trey of the day. (He was 1/6 from long range, 2/10 overall.)
UK outscored the Cardinals 13-2 the rest of the way to fashion the Wildcats deserving 78-70 win.
* * * * *
Having tallied the last five of the 1st, UK led 32-24 at the break.
The Wildcats pushed that advantage to 12 at 38-26, forcing Mack to call a timeout at 16:53.
During which stoppage, having had enough of Nwora’s lack of leadership and lackluster, lackadaisical play, he pulled him. And reinserted Samuell Williamson, who’d essentially done nothing but commit three fouls during his short stint in the 1st.
Mack on Nwora: “He didn’t play well, so we took him out and played with the other guys that were playing better.”
“I thought other guys were playing much harder, so we played other guys.”
* * * * *
In a game that turned into a street fight, Fresh Kimble had his best outing as a Cardinal.
12 points. 4 assists. 2 steals. No turnovers.
He drained a huge triple from the corner, putting the Cardinals up 54-53.
Even more important his baseline drive and reverse layup in traffic knotted the battle at 61 with :13 to go in regulation.
Dwayne Sutton, Malik Williams and Steven Enoch battled as best they are capable underneath.
Sutton had 14 and 10. Williams, despite his lack of heft, fought for 9 points and 7 boards. Enoch netted 18.
Darius Perry also deserves mention. He had five points, three rebounds, three assists, and did not turn it over in 33:08 of action, played solid D and was a steady presence in the raucous atmosphere at Rupp.
* * * * *
Louisville outscored Kentucky 36-22 in the paint.
Louisville outscored Kentucky 14-8 on 2d chance points.
While speedier, defter with the rock, more talented UK was +16 on fast break scores.
Still, as the game played out, it’s not unrealistic to say, had U of L hit its normal percentage of FT opportunities, the Cards would have won, should have won the game.
Instead U of L was 9/20. UK was 21/25.
Better team Saturday afternoon won.
— Seedy K