There’s still not enough cohesiveness and consistency from the Kentucky freshman, but their ability to elevate their game after their best player leaves the floor for good, resulting in a 73-66 win over Louisville, probably put one big smile on John Calipari’s face when he went to sleep after the game.
It was the fifth win in six games for Kentucky in the rivalry, but also the first time since 2005 that the Wildcats managed to beat the Cardinals despite being the lower ranked team, heading into the game as the #18 program in the nation, compared with Louisville’s #6.
A second loss this season for Louisville (already losing to North Carolina), as they couldn’t get Russ Smith or anyone else going in the closing minutes of the game. Smith finished with 19 points, but he didn’t score a single one during the final 8:43 of the game. Yes, he had that massive dunk of Julius Randle earlier on that made the internet explode for a few minutes, but he wasn’t able to handle the athleticism and length of the Kentucky players during the second half.
We had a shot in the second half, and missed free throws and a big defensive mistake in giving up the 3-pointer. I give them credit, they did a good job against our pressure.
Julius Randle scored 17 points in the first half before exiting the game due to cramps which kept him out for the rest of the game just as the second half was beginning. Kentucky could have folded without him, but instead got some great minutes from Alex Poythress coming off the bench (7 points, 5 rebounds) but were pulled through mostly by the Harrison twins (combining to score 28 points) while James Young had himself a big game with 18 points on 5-of-17 from the field.
The most impressive thing about the Kentucky players wasn’t their shooting (outside of Randle, the team went 37% from the field), but their ability to handle the Louisville pressure, and turning the ball over only 11 times. They outrebounded the Cardinals 44-37, which included grabbing 17 boards on the offensive glass, as Willie Cauley-Stein and Young were very hard to stop for Louisville when attacking the glass. Kentucky outscored Louisville by 18 in the paint, and won the second-chance points battle as well 17-6. Louisville outscored Kentucky in transition, but couldn’t get those same chances to open up for them once Russ Smith found himself struggling to make one decent play in the game’s ending.
This was a game of maturing for Kentucky, who are always talented, but slightly raw and immature plenty of times. There are still glitches in the machine that need to be fixed, but if they can put on such a solid performance against a team like Louisville despite Julius Randle not playing, there’s plenty of signs this season is going to be a good one.
I thought we grew up. We looked like a basketball team today. Here’s what was on the drawing board today: `Look like a team. Play like a team. Fight like a team.’ Those were the keys to the victory.