Kentucky kept their Final Four hopes alive Friday night as they pulled out another “upset” victory 74-69. This time it was a little sweeter as they beat rival Louisville and move on to the Elite Eight.
Kentucky has had Elite talent all season but over the past month they have been living up to the lofty BBN expectations.
This game started out rough for Kentucky. They were settling for long threes which is exactly what Louisville wanted. It fueled the Cardinals’ offense as they took those long rebounds and pushed the ball in transition.
Louisville was also holding their own on the boards early. Montrezl Harrell was battling and was pushing the Kentucky bigs around at will.
Louisville continued to get what the wanted offensively as they ballooned their lead to 13 in the first half.
Things went from bad to worse when Willie Cauley-Stein had to leave the game after hurting his ankle. He did not return. When asked about the injury, John Calipari said, “it didn’t look like a good ankle injury.”
This team has battled through adversity all season whether it was poor play or criticism on their maturity. It was no surprise that they came together and regrouped after one of their teammates went down.
The Wildcats battled back and cut the lead to three at 34-31 at the half. The Kentucky players visited with WCS in the locker room. It was apparent then that he wasn’t coming back and they wanted to “win it for Willie.”
One of the guys who was ready to fill WCS’s shoes was Darkari Johnson who had 15 pts and 6 rebs. It seemed like he was forcing his way into the lane scoring at will. He really added energy and kept the Cats in it stopping Louisville runs with timely baskets.
Alex Poythress also came up massive late in the game. John Calipari said after the game that “Alex won the game for us.”
Poythress blocked a layup by Russ Smith late in the game and almost brought UK back on his own as he scored 5 point in a 7-0 run that tied the game at 66 with two minutes to play.
Julius Randle and Aaron Harrison had 15 points each while Andrew Harrison finished with 14. Randle also grabbed 12 boards marking his 23 double-double of the season.
This team’s offensive balance has been something that really makes them difficult to guard. The opposition has to account for each player on the floor allowing Kentucky to get what they want offensively because they have scoring threats at each position.
Going into the game there were two areas that Kentucky had to be productive. One was rebounding. UK won that battle 37-29, which was no surprise as that is a strength. The other key factor was turnovers. Kentucky only committed 12 and they forced Louisville into 10 of their own. They need to keep that number around 10 if they plan to make it to Dallas.
Andrew Harrison only turned the ball over only twice and has demonstrated a lot of poise as of late. He also dished out 7 assists and grabbed 5 boards.
The biggest number of the game in my opinion was 1. One being the number of assists Julius Randle had. It came at the biggest moment and UK had to have it. He drove the lane drawing two defenders, kicked it to Aaron Harrison who nailed a 3 pointer giving the Wildcats the lead at 70-68 with 30 seconds left.
Harrell, Smith, and Hancock combined for 57 of the 69 Cardinals’ points. The three guys Kentucky needed to stop played big. Luckily their guys played a little bit bigger.
Nobody knows what the future holds with WCS but it’s not likely he will play on Sunday vs Michigan. This group must continue to play through any obstacles that comes their way.
Two interesting notes grabbed my attention after the game. One, was something Russ Smith did. It was reported he came in the UK locker room after the game and congratulated the UK players on their win. That tells everyone all they need to know about his type of character. Not only does he demonstrate professional skills on the court but the type attitude it takes to be a professional in any setting.
Wish I could say the same for Rick Pitino. He stated after the game that “we hate to lose to Kentucky but we try to be gracious in defeat.”
Apparently that goes for all areas except his feelings on WCS.
WCS’ injury was brought up by a reporter as a rallying point for Kentucky similarly to the way Kevin Ware’s injury, although drastically different, was for Louisville last year.
He was asked what it meant to lose a game changer and his reply was “I don’t think he is a game changer.”
I know it is his opinion, and everyone evaluates talent different but it seems like a bit of sour grapes to disrespect a kid who had just been hurt and who is obviously a next level talent.
Maybe Rick confused him with another Willie Cauley-Stein. One that hasn’t tallied 404 rebs and 166 blocks at Kentucky.
Rick is a HOF coach but let’s not get that confused with HOF person. Shots like these explain why fuel continues to be added to the fire that is the UK vs UL rivalry. It is also proof of why Kentucky fans continue to hate/not forgive him for going to Louisville.
Sorry end of rant. I won’t let a grumpy old geezer ruin the fact that Kentucky is on their way to the Elite 8 and one win away from Dallas, a place where they and BBN thought they would be all along.
Stats from: ESPN.com
Picture from: Courier Journal