Despite the braying of the nation’s college hoops cognoscenti, this game meant as much to the U of L Cardinals as it did to the reeling 1-6 Kentucky Wildcats. True.
I mean, you know, if not this year, when?
Louisville 62, Kentucky 59.
This one will surely gain some sense of beauty in the years to come, as memories fade. It was, let us be frank, not a very well played game. It shall not be used as an example for basketball aesthetics.
But was it tense?
Duh. Of course. It’s the Cats vs. the Cards. You’ve heard it, “Throw the records out the window.”
Hoops of the highest level? Uh, no. Not close.
Except in the eyes of the winning beholder.
Louisville on offense was . . .
. . . to use the description I jotted down, “tentative.”
. . . to use the word oft reiterated during Coach Chris Mack’s post game presser, “stagnant.” His final tally of usage was four times.
U of L prevailed despite not making a FG in the final 2:54 of action. Because UK missed their final five shots, 7 of their last 8, and didn’t score from the field in the last 3:22. Which misses included Olivier Sarr’s at 08, which took a couple circles around the rim, before falling away and being grabbed by the most diminutive fellow under the glass, Carlik Jones. As well as a wide open trey by Brandon Boston at the buzzer, which would have sent the battle to OT for the second season in a row.
U of L prevailed despite a couple turnovers in the final 1:22. Both mistakes of aggressiveness, trying to make something happen within the offense, but giveaways nonetheless that could have been fatal. Jae’lyn Withers traveled before making what would have been a beautiful dish underneath for a bunny. Dre Davis stepped on the baseline while taking it to the hoop.
Kentucky, a team in considerable disarray, did not capitalize.
Davis atoned for his gaffe with a decidedly important rebound on a Devin Askew miss, and a FT after being fouled, which put the Cards up for good, 60-59.
Withers, despite seeming nigh on invisible during the tilt, was 3/3 from the field, 2/2 at the line, snared 9 boards, and held the strangely heralded Sarr to zero FGs on only four attempts, and one rebound.
Withers’ +/- was U of L’s best at +11.
* * * * *
U of L won because of Carlik Jones, who was on the court for all but 1:50 of action, and David Johnson, who never sat.
Did the ball seem to be in their hands all the time?
Yes. Because it was.
I’m not sure I really like how the Cardinals offense looked. OK, yes I’m sure.
It was, uh, stagnant, tentative.
But a mildly ebullient Chris Mack indicated afterwards that it had more to do with the guard tandem’s mates not moving open as much as they might, as it was the fault of the dribbling duo.
Johnson had 17 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists.
He also made the biggest hustle play of the contest, when he strong armed the retrieval of a Davis miss, scored and converted the +1 to put the Cardinals up 7, 50-43, at the 8:07 mark.
Jones scored 20, and snared 4 rebounds other than the biggest of the night, which allowed him to increase Louisville’s lead to the final 62-59 margin at the charity stripe.
They also scored in drives to the bucket on consecutive possessions, first Johnson then Jones, after UK started the 2d with energy to take the lead. Thanks to those plays, U of L regained the advantage, 37-34.
Here’s what struck me about those key stars of the game.
Johnson was reared in the Commonwealth. He understands to the core of his soul the meaning of Cards vs. Cats.
“Growing up, I loved the intensity of the rivalry.”
While a mercenary of sorts, Jones too understands.
“Being on the floor just to play against Kentucky is a dream.” Or, something close to that.
* * * * *
The Cardinals outscored the considerably taller Wildcats in the paint, 32-24.
The Cardinals outscored the run and gun Wildcats on fastbreaks, 11-8.
The Cards hit 80% of their FTs. Kentucky, 64%.
* * * * *
John Calipari: “Losing stinks.”
For the Cardinal Faithful, it’s a holiday scent most aromatic.
Kentucky’s coach also mentioned how much fun he had coaching the game.
Here’s what’s really fun: Beating Arch Rival.
— c d kaplan