This is part two of a three part series. Part one is here
After Baylor snapped John Calipari’s 55 game home winning streak, the Kentucky Wildcats were 4-3 and had just dropped out of the top 25 for the first time in the John Calipari era. The calendar had turned to December and a matchup against the Louisville Cardinals loomed ominously on the schedule. With Ryan Harrow back with the team, Kentucky had a four game stretch of cupcakes to right their ship or risk getting blown out by the hated Cardinals.
Even though Kentucky posted impressive wins on the scoreboard, the previous warning signs still lingered. One of those was the play of Ryan Harrow. Even in lopsided wins, John Calipari saw the good and the bad of Harrow and started the practice of yanking him from the game after mistakes. After a 74-46 win over Portland, Calipari acknowledged the good and the bad of Harrow but seemed to think things were starting to look up:
“I liked it,” Calipari said. “He had two lapses of his old self. I absolutely jerked him out of the game because he’s not playing that way.”
“The other parts of the game, I thought he did fine. Got to run the team a little better, like yelling out what we’re doing. But he was good. It was great to see. I’m happy for him,” he said.
But for the most part, the four game cupcake stretch had Kentucky fans feeling optimistic for the Louisville game. Ryan Harrow seemed to be rounding into form, as he racked up 16 assists versus just 3 turnovers. Against Marshall, Harrow was dazzling and had a 23 point game. Nerlens Noel was becoming every bit the defensive player that Anthony Davis was, and had 21 blocks in the four games. Willie Cauley-Stein was solid off the bench, had a double double. Despite his knack of being out of control, Archie Goodwin was a solid double-digit scorer and even Kyle Wiltjer turned in a 23 point game.
Granted, the four games were verses Samford, Portland, Lipscomb, and Marshall. Aside from Maryland, Kentucky really had no “quality wins” and the SEC was looking incredibly week with only Florida and Missouri standing out. There was a common consensus that Kentucky needed to get a big win over Louisville as that may be their last chance at a ranked opponent for the next six weeks. While the rest of the Wildcats seemed to be stepping up their games, there were still concerns about Alex Poythress’s effort. Even in the blowout wins, Poythress was seeing less and less time on the court. In the last three games, Poythress’s minutes dipped, from 29 against Portland, 25 versus Lipscomb, and just 21 against Marshall.
In the meantime, Louisville was cruising along at a 11-1 clip and was ranked #4 in the country. John Calipari and the nation would really get a good idea of what this Wildcat team was about as they prepared to travel into hostile territory at the Yum! Center.