The stage was set for the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. For the second time in three seasons the teams would play twice in the same season. For the second time in three seasons Kentucky would sweep both games.
The prospect of Kentucky winning seemed bleak in the beginning. They were just trying not to get blown out in the first ten minutes of the game. Nothing was going right for the Cats. Offensively they were struggling and settling on hoisting up a lot of three-pointers. Granted a couple of them were half way down, but still. Louisville was taking it to the Cats as they raced to an 18-5 lead.
Slowly but surely Kentucky inched their way back into the game. Then Willie Cauley-Stein went down with a bad injury to his left ankle. As he hobbled back to the locker room you could tell it was the type that you could just walk off and continue to play on.
Calipari on Cauley-Stein: “It’s not a good ankle injury. Let me just say that.”
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) March 29, 2014
Kentucky continued to fight in spite of the added adversity and when the first 20 minutes had concluded Kentucky was only down by three at 34-31. You had to like their chances at that point. Balance was the key. Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson all had 15 points. Andrew Harrison had 14. James Young battled foul trouble and just missed double digits as he finished with nine points before fouling out.
Dakari Johnson played every bit as big as his 7’0″ frame is. He took his time and made his moves and proved that he could get a great look down low any time he wanted one. Randle notched another double-double under his belt but his pass to Aaron Harrison for a clutch corner three to give UK a 70-68 lead was arguably his best play of the game.
Alex Poythress had a huge impact on both ends as well. Luke Hancock was giving Kentucky fits. He was hitting his outside shots like we knew he would. There was no way he was going to have another off night like he did in the first game at Rupp Arena in December. In addition to his outside game, he was getting to the rim with relative ease. He was basically waltzing down the lane at times. With Kentucky trailing 66-63 Alex Poythress picked Hancock at the top of the key. Hancock attempted to drive to his right but Alex was having none of it. Poythress stayed solid and sound and forced Hancock to lose the ball out-of-bounds. Then he grabs a hard-fought rebound and gets fouled on the put back attempt. Three the hard way to tie the game at 66.
Julius Randle must get credit for his defense on Russ Smith’s potential game tying three. He was clutch from the line too, as was the entire team (22-27). Kentucky ended another unblemished record en route to this win. It was Wichita State (35-0) Sunday. Tonight it was Rick Pitino’s perfect Sweet Sixteen record (11-0). John Calipari also improves to 6-1 against Rick Pitino since he arrived at UK.
It was another big time grown man’s game from these young Wildcats. Up next is Michigan (28-8) with a trip to the Final Four on the line.