Putting aside all the overhyped ridiculousness of a Duke versus Kentucky meeting, this game was going to be a good barometer of just how good this Kentucky team was. Duke was returning three seniors from last years team which was a second seed in the NCAA Tournament while Kentucky was starting fresh with five new starters after winning the National Title. So it is the ultimate cliche game of experience versus youth and as it does in most cases, expererience trumps youth, especially if that youth is playing in just their second NCAA game. Duke walked out of the Georgia Dome with a 75-68 win, but Kentucky more than held their own with an experienced, top 10 team.
Kentucky had a bit of the nerves and sloppiness and Duke jumped out to a quick 5-1 lead. Kyle Wiltjer’s trey keyed an 10-1 UK run in which all the young Cats got involved in the scoring. Alex Poythress got involved in the game early as his second basket gave UK at 13-7 lead. Seth Curry nailed two early treys to keep Duke in the game but Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee each got two early fouls but Kentucky could never really pull away. A Noel tipin gave UK a 21-17 lead, but Duke, keyed by the seniors went on an 12-2 run. Plumlee and Kelly accounted for 11 of the 12 points and Duke led 29-23 with 3:55 remaining in the half and seemed on the verge of pulling away. An Alex Poythress snapped that streak and Nerlens Noel hit 3-4 FT’s to knot the game with 2:00 left. Duke outscored UK the rest of the half and went in with a 33-31 halftime lead.
Alex Poythress and Nerlens Noel led Kentucky at the half with 10 and 8 points and Archie Goodwin chipped in 6. Kentucky rebounded better than against Maryland, but Duke still had a 15-14 lead and almost half the rebounds were of the offensive kind. The officials kind of controlled the first half with a barrage of offensive fouls and Calipari insinuated at the half that Dukes flopping would not go unpunished in the NBA. It was almost a foul a minute game as 19 fouls were called, but no one was in serious foul trouble. Plumlee, Kelly, and Hairston had two fouls each for Duke, while Goodwin, Mays, Cauley-Stein, and Polson all had two fouls for UK.
Despite the occasional sloppiness and lack of team cohesiveness, Kentucky was in a good spot, down just 2 at the half.
Duke made the first move in the second half. With the score knotted at 37, back to back threes by Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook put Duke up 43-37 with 16:45 left. Just a few seconds later, Mason Plumlee picked up his fourth foul and the potential was there for Kentucky to seize control of the game. Instead of making a run, Kentucky fell apart. They lost their direction and once again, played very undisciplined ball. Duke made them pay and started to pull away. Another Sulaimon trey pushed the lead to 10 and a Josh Hairston layup made it 54-42 with 11:06 left and Kentucky on the ropes. Poor Kentucky rebounding continued to plague the Cats and another Sulaimon trey made it 58-44 with 9:24 left.