ORLANDO, Fla. (WDRB) -- The University of Kentucky was a rare underdog on its home court, but polished off the University of Louisville 73-66 on Saturday. Nine thoughts on the victory. 1. PAYING THE PRICE. The less-experienced Wildcats were able to beat Louisville in part because they'd lost to Michigan State, North Carolina and Baylor. All those teams had the size to match up with Kentucky. Louisville did not. Nor did Louisville play the quality of opposition heading into the game that Kentucky had. Even some of UK's lesser opponents were quality teams -- Belmont, Boise State, Providence. That matters in the end, especially when you're trying to build a team from scratch.
"One of the things I told them prior to the game, what prepared us for this game was playing Michigan State, playing Providence, playing Boise (State), playing Baylor, playing North Carolina on the road, playing Belmont," John Calipari said. "That prepared us for this game. And so as much as I hate to say, every game I'm coaching is like a war, this team needed that."
2. SIZE MATTERS. The common theme in UK's losses was that the opponent had size -- in both the frontcourt and backcourt -- to match up with Kentucky. Louisville did not have that. Willie Cauley-Stein's ability to guard U of L guards on the perimeter was one problem the Cardinals couldn't well counter. Twice Cardinal guards committed palming turnovers trying to figure out how to negotiate their way around the 7-footer at the top of the key.
3. RANDLE'S ABSENCE. It sounds strange to say it, but being forced to play without Julius Randle for all but four minutes of the second half might've been the best thing that could happen to this group from a team standpoint. They were forced to come together in his absence, and the Wildcats needed big play from a number of guys, including James Young, Alex Poythress and even Andrew Harrison, who probably played his best game as a Wildcat.
On the other side of Randle's cramping issue, you wonder how a program whose players very heart rates are monitored through every practice can wind up sending a player out so depleted of fluids that he cramps up in the first half. But it's something UK trainers no doubt with be attuned to moving forward.
4. ENJOYING THE HOME COURT. Obviously, playing at Rupp was a major factor. Of UK's three losses, had any of them been played at Rupp, the outcome likely went the other way. So, again, UK had earned the right to get a big win at home. The Rupp Arena crowd was primed, that much showed through on television. UK will have to prove it can take its new-found toughness on the road. It won't get to play any postseason games in Rupp. But the way Wildcat fans travel, they'll make most venues as close an approximation as they can.
"The crowd was great," Calipari said. "Crowd was here an hour before the game -- these people are crazy. Here an hour before game, pushing , hey give me my 16 inches, move the other way, I mean, it was crazy. I mean, it's nuts. But it's great and I'm hoping they enjoyed it, they enjoyed the growth of this young team . . . That's what we should be enjoying right now."
5. CALIPARI'S PREGAME MESSAGE. One thing I thought before the game was that Calipari would not get caught up in scouting Louisville or trying to adapt anything his team did to the Cardinals as a team. That turned out to be the case. Calipari's message to his team before the game was about his team only.
"Here is what was on the board today: Look like a team. Play like a team. Fight like a team," Calipari said. "That was the keys to the game. There was no, let's guard your pick and roll. Let's do it, just the team. We have to be more like a team and they were that today."
6. THE GOOD JAMES YOUNG SHOWED UP. UK's talented small forward is capable of being the leading scorer in any game he plays, but he's also shown a tendency to disappear. On Saturday, he didn't have a good shooting day. In fact, he made just 5 of 17 shots. But he also had five rebounds in each half, dished out four assists and had a block and a steal. He outplayed the three spot for U of L all by himself.
7. ALEX POYTHRESS DELIVERED. Here's a strange stat. With Julius Randle on the court, U of L outscored UK by nine points. You read that right. But in the 21 minutes Alex Poythress was on the court, UK outscored the Cardinals by 20. That's how big his performance was. His stat line doesn't jump of the page, seven points on 3-of-4 shooting and five rebounds. But his presence was huge.
"Alex was unbelievable but he's been doing it in practice," Calipari said. "He's never been like this. And I thought he was great. . . . When he was in the game, he gave us one more defender, he gave us one more rebounder, he gave us one more guy who could switch on pick and rolls; and he was fighting them around the goal, so they were not getting any easy baskets and he's playing within himself."
8. THE DOWN SIDE. While UK fought harder and seemed more together, it also didn't play its best game. With Randle out, the offense became very much oriented toward the guards, and their shooting lines weren't particularly impressive. Aaron Harrison was 5-for-12 from the field. Andrew Harrison was 6-for-16. Young was 5-of-17. Those three guys took 45 of UK's 62 shots, and were 35.5 percent for the game. Neither team had more than eight assists. But they stood up to Louisville's guards, provided their share of scoring, and combined with the 10-of-12 shooting from Randle and Poythress, were enough to pull out the victory. Free throws again might have been a killer for UK had U of L made its free throws. But it didn't. As it is, 16-for-30 might lose you some tough games moving forward. Calipari knows it.
9. THE HARRISONS KEEP IMPROVING. U of L thought it could bother the Harrison twins with pressure, create turnovers, and turn that into offense. In the end, that was probably the key part of Rick Pitino's game plan that was denied. He pointed it out after the game.
"They've got a very good team and they're going to get better and better," Pitino said. "I thought the Harrisons were very much under control, handled pressure, didn't force things. I thought they showed much more maturity than what everyone was saying."