A loss is never good. A loss to your bitter rival is even worse. But what if in that loss, you find yourself and set the tone for the rest of the season? Well, the loss still sucks but becomes stomach-able. And that is what happened today in the Kentucky Wildcats 80-77 loss to the hated Louisville Cardinals at the YUM! Center. Let me repeat, the loss was barely tolerable, but in reality, this was a game that Kentucky gave away and deserved to win.
Don’t come to a Kentucky/Louisville game and expect a symphony of elegance and grace. Expect to see a bull in a china shop. Or a rugby scrum. Or one of the ugliest and most physical games you will see in quite a while. But that is the beauty of this rivalry. You can’t look at records and stats. And neither team is going to give up and die.
For the record, the officiating, as it commonly is in this series was a mess. You can say that Peyton Siva and Russ Smith got about seven fouls each and you would be right. And while some Kentucky fans may blame the officiating on Kentucky, you can’t blame the officials on this one. Blame Kentucky’s 11-23 FT shooting. If Kentucky would have shot a merely tolerable 70%, they would have won 82-80. But that can be corrected and hopefully, this team can get in the high 60’s if FT shooting by March.
Or you could blame Archie Goodwin for wasting :11 seconds and turning the ball over in a crucial late possession. But Goodwin is still learning the game and had 22 points and 5 rebounds. Goodwin is going to get better and will not do that in March.
Or even blame John Calipari. He said himself he deserved the blame for not calling a timeout when Kentucky cut the lead to four which led to Goodwins confusing possession. We allow coach a mistake or two a year because we know he will dot do that in the Spring.
So yes, Kentucky SHOULD have won the game and it is tough to stomach that they did not … but guess what we are not complaining about?
Effort and point guard play which has been the constant complaint and that seems to be resolved. The “playing a 40 minute game” is still something to work on.
The Cats came out battling, hustling, and scratching and proved that “Camp Cal” was a self improvement camp. Kentucky came out strong the first half and took it to the Cardinals and scratched out an 18-12 lead with 10:46 left in the half. Then came a 13-2 Louisville run in which they forced turnovers on three straight possessions and gave the Cardinals a 25-20 lead and it seemed like Kentucky was on the verge of getting blown out. Kentucky regrouped to tie it at 25, but lost momentum again to fall behind 36-28 at half. The turnovers and chaos continues in the second half as Louisville went up 51-34.
All in all, it was a span that Louisville outscored Kentucky 39-16 and this stretch truly represented the “bad” of Kentucky basketball that we saw against Notre Dame and Baylor. But despite the lunatic fringe of the YUM! Center going crazy and Kentucky was on wobbly legs. I thought they would lose by 30, but they rebounded the last 14:46 to claw back into the game and have a realistic chance to win. Kudos go out to Willie Cauley-Stein, who despite the missed FT’s played like a beast for the first time this year. Nerlens Noel was a warrior, and Ryan Harrow has arrived as the Kentucky point guard. Kyle Wiltjer stepped up and kept UK in the game with some key three pointers. It’s true that Julius Mays had a rare off day, but he has been solid all season. As soon as Alex Poythress decides that he is going to be the difference maker on this team, I think we have a team that can play deep into March.
I hate to do the whole “game of two halves” but it truly was. From the 10:00 mark of the first half to the 14:46 mark of the second half (a span of 15:14) , Louisville had a 39-16 advantage. Now if you look at the first 10:00 of the game and the last 14:46 (24:46), Kentucky had a 61-41 advantage. Now Kentucky eliminating that bad 15 minute stretch a game, or even reducing it to say 8-10 minutes is going to be the difference between 8-4 and the Final Four. If the pollsters truly think Louisville is a top four team, you have to put Kentucky in the top 25 out of respect.
As for now, the loss stings, but some of that is softened by the fact that this team is finally headed in the right direction.