BOZICH: Kentucky Returns To The National Conversation - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH: Kentucky Returns To The National Conversation

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Kentucky's towering frontcourt helped the Wildcats rally in an 80-77 loss to Louisville. Kentucky's towering frontcourt helped the Wildcats rally in an 80-77 loss to Louisville.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It's all back in play now for this University of Kentucky basketball team. All the sniping that started after the Wildcats endured back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Baylor should officially stop.

Their premature disappearance from the Associated Press Top 25? UK should be welcomed back no later than Monday. That outrageous projection from CBSSports.com that the Wildcats are tracking toward a 10 seed for the NCAA Tournament? Cue the laugh track on that one.

The talk that they don't have a prayer of defending their national championship? If you say that, make certain nobody keeps a record.

Kentucky lost to Louisville, 80-77, at the KFC Yum! Center Saturday. The Cards were tremendous. So were the Wildcats. They showed poise, purpose and, as usual, potential.

"Two weeks ago, quite frankly, I didn't think they were a very good basketball team," U of L coach Rick Pitino said.

"Now they're a helluva basketball team. They have really, in just a two-week span, improved. They're going to be a great team come February."

Kentucky delivered considerable evidence that John Calipari is building another Top 15 team, a group with a towering frontcourt, a slasher, a ball-handler and a couple of shooters. Florida and Missouri might be better in the Southeastern Conference, but don't count on it.

They're absolutely going to be a team you don't want on your side of the bracket when the serious basketball begins.

"The thing we weren't doing was fighting," Calipari said. "There was no fight in our team. There was no sense of urgency. But there was one today."

Yes, there was. A prolonged and memorable sense of urgency stirred within the Wildcats over the final 15 minutes.

There had been a string of flashing lights that this game was racing toward a blowout. The Cardinals were sustaining the kind of unrelenting full-court defense that not many teams can withstand.  Louisville was taking good shots. They were protecting the basketball.

Louisville looked like a team about to wash away three seasons of frustration against Kentucky with a jumbo-sized win. The U of L fans in the record crowd of 22,810 were making so much noise you couldn't hear the UK fans in the lower bowl.

"Defensively and offensively, for that matter, in the first half, we played awesome," Pitino said.

Guess what?  The Cards were even better in the first five minutes of the second half, pushing their lead to 17 (51-34). Time for Kentucky to flounder.

Kentucky did not flounder. Kentucky flourished.

Kyle Wiltjer changed the vibe with back-to-back three-pointers. Archie Goodwin made a jumper. Ryan Harrow had a layup. Game on.

This wasn't a five-minute Kentucky spurt. This was a 15-minute push that enabled the Wildcats  to move within two points (63-61) with 5 ½ minutes to play and trail by only a possession (77-74) in the final 33 seconds.

Things got so tight that, after the game, Calipari criticized himself. He said he should have called a timeout before the Wildcats made a game-ending turnover when they were down four with less than 30 seconds to play. Calipari said he also erred by waiting too long before employing his big guys to help the UK guards move the ball through the Louisville press.

"I told (the UK players) this one is on me and hopefully, I'll do a better job," Calipari said. "That's inexcusable what I did."

Calipari will get better. So will his team. The Wildcats lost by three on a day when they missed more free throws (12) than they made (11). They didn't get much from either Alex Poythress (seven points in 15 minutes) or Nerlens Noel (eight points).

But point guard Ryan Harrow played his best game against the best competition. Russ Smith and Peyton Siva challenged every twist, turn, dribble and spin that Harrow made. He never threw the ball away. Not one time. That is impressive, especially over 39 minutes.

Calipari met Harrow at midcourt one time to question one of his decisions. Harrow played through it, giving Kentucky 17 unexpected points and most of the leadership that Calipari has been demanding.

"He did great," Calipari said. "I grabbed him after and said, ‘This is where I wanted you at the beginning of the year. Now, where do we go from here? How do we build on this?' "

Wiltjer shot with less hesitation. Archie Goodwin scored in traffic. Willie Cauley-Stein had eight rebounds in 23 minutes and several acrobatic dunks.

"They're going to be an excellent basketball team," Pitino said. "They're going to get better and better and better."

It's all back in play for the Wildcats now.

Copyright 2012 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

 

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