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