The names on the fronts of the jerseys still read “Kentucky” and “Louisville,” but much has changed since the last time the Cards ventured into Rupp Arena. Those changes were likely the reason for such a quiet “Louisville Hate Week.”
Gone was Rick Pitino, as was Tom Jurich. NCAA violations, the UL foundation scandal, and the FBI investigation certainly removed a lot of the swagger of the L1C4 fans. A lackluster performance and subsequent loss against a not very good UCLA Bruins team last weekend had the BBN feeling deflated as well.
But the changes don’t matter in the long run. This is still Kentucky versus Louisville and the crowd that filled Rupp Arena realized that. The boos were a little more intense than for other games, the cheers a little louder. So in spite of a week filled with people on both sides of the Red and Blue saying this rivalry didn’t mean anything anymore, the players and Rupp faithful clearly felt differently.
The game started with a series of runs. First, it was the Cats with the quick start and a 5-0 run before Louisville responded with an 11-0 run of their own. As the BBN grew restless, Calipari’s youngsters got into a groove and dropped 11 straight points, taking a 16-11 lead. After that, the teams bounced back and forth and were tied at 21 with 8:04 remaining in the half.
Then, it was a flurry of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, and PJ Washington baskets. In the blink of an eye, a very tight game turned into a comfortable 14-point halftime lead for the Wildcats. But nothing has seemed to come easily for the Cats this year and the BBN was holding their collective breaths, hoping Kentucky would not open the 2nd half with one of those lulls they’ve become famous for, allowing the Cards to close the gap.
The BBN didn’t need to worry, however. As the 2nd half began, Quade Green, Gilgeous-Alexander, and PJ Washington came out firing on all cylinders. By the time play had reached the first media timeout at the 15:39 mark, the lead had grown to 19 with no signs of slowing down. After that, Kentucky simply imposed their will on the Cards ultimately defeating them by a score of 90-61. Louisville Coach David Padgett said after the game:
I think the final score speaks for itself. They came ready to play. They responded from a loss and obviously made more plays than we did. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit.
We had a game plan and we wanted to try to come in and confine the defense (driving the ball) They hit a couple of long jump shots and everything opened up. They were the much better basketball team today.
And that sums up everything. The Cats had a high level of energy, were active on defense, and protected the ball very nicely (11 turnovers for the game). What was the catalyst for this solid game? Was it Shai’s new hairdo or was it his new shoes? Or was it simply a team that is growing up little by little and learning they have to bring intensity to the court every game? Perhaps it was a little bit of all those things.
In the end, four Cats ended up in double figures (Green with 13, Washington with 16, Diallo with 14, and Gilgeous-Alexander with a career-high 24). Calipari was nearly giddy after the game, joking he would be doing backflips down the hallway when he returned to the locker room. Or perhaps he wasn’t joking and that new hip he got a couple of years ago has given him a huge bounce in his step.
I’m certain Louisville fans will try to devalue this win by reminding everyone their team just isn’t that good this year. And there will no doubt be a few members of the BBN that will find some kind of negative with this game. But pay no attention to any of that. After all, this was Kentucky and Louisville and it still is a great rivalry. And today, the good guys won again.
Follow me on Twitter @ForeverBigBlue
Follow @CameronRadio for live game updates