BOZICH | Calipari tops Pitino again -- on scoreboard and in Miss Manners' competition
John Calipari defeated Rick Pitino again Saturday -- on the scoreboard as well as in the Miss Manners competition.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – This is how thoroughly John Calipari and the University of Kentucky basketball program have burrowed into Rick Pitino’s head in this rivalry between Pitino's past and current teams:
When Calipari says the right thing, Pitino does the wrong thing. When Calipari is the gentleman, Pitino is the adolescent. Calipari gets it. Pitino gets himself in messes he should be too wise to create.
In the end, no matter how both coaches comport themselves, Calipari always wins – on the scoreboard (75-73, Saturday in Rupp Arena) and in the Miss Manners' competition (1-0 after Calipari’s eighth win in their last nine meetings).
A marvelously entertaining Louisville-Kentucky hoedown that began with Calipari asking Kentucky fans not to give Pitino grief for the sex scandal that has surrounded the Cards’ program since October actually ended with Pitino slipping out a back hallway in Rupp Arena without taking questions.
Both teams performed as if they wanted to prove this rivalry is the best that college basketball offers. Calipari understood that. Pitino understood that he wanted to get out of Lexington as quickly as possible.
Any question about which coach is setting the better example?
Just this one: Pitino can’t expect a break about whether he did or did not give Rupp Arena fans an obscene one-finger salute while leaving the court by refusing to make himself available to talk after the game – other than to the U of L radio network.
It’s official: This rivalry has become all John Calipari, all the time.
Louisville outrebounded the Wildcats by 10. The Cardinals got 27 points from Damion Lee, the most fearless player on the court. Lee’s senior sidekick, Trey Lewis, balled as if moments like this are what brought him to Louisville. Pitino got it right by taking those two fifth-year transfers.
Nine Cardinals scored, including freshman Donovan Mitchell, who made a determined push for more clock with 8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and quality defense in 21 minutes. Pitino had a solid game plan and his players executed most of it.
So how did the Wildcats (10-2) win?
A Kentucky team that had been shooting like the worst shooting team in the Southeastern Conference stung the Cardinals by making 11 of 23 three-point shots.
A Kentucky program that is supposed to be Team Freshmen punished the Cardinals with veterans, drawing 56 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists from a senior (Alex Poythress 14 points, six boards), two juniors (Dominique Hawkins, 13 points on three shots from distance; Marcus Lee, 8 points, 7 boards) and a sophomore (Tyler Ulis (21 points and 8 assists in 39 tireless minutes).
A Kentucky team that coughed up a nine-point lead in the first half as well as most of a 16-point lead in the second half made all the essential plays in the final 5:34 after a three-point shot by Lee pulled the Cardinals within 65-64.
A Kentucky team that lost Isaiah Briscoe to an ankle injury in pre-game warm-ups needed Hawkins to play 26 minutes (18 more than his average) to finish one jump shot better than the gallant Cardinals.
After the game, Calipari was analytical, funny and gracious. He said Pitino’s team played terrific. He said the Cardinals would be a factor in the Atlantic Coast Conference race. He said Louisville was the kind of team Kentucky could see one more time in the NCAA Tournament.
“Louisville is a good team,” Calipari said. “They’re well-coached. Those guards are really, really good. The big kid (Chinanu Onuaku), they were throwing it in and he scored on us, 10 rebounds …
“That team, Louisville’s going to do damage and I don’t know how we’ll finish, but they will be one of those teams left standing. We may have them again.”
After the game, Pitino was neither analytical nor funny nor gracious.
He was especially not gracious, following through on his pre-game pledge to U of L senior assistant athletic director Kenny Klein to have assistant head coach Ralph Willard handle the post-game questioning.
Pitino’s players talked.
Pitino should have talked.
It’s part of the job description in a fantasy sports world where college basketball coaches are paid more than an entire elementary school of teachers.
Pitino understands that. He has regularly talked – until this season. He’s a Hall of Famer who has coached in the NBA as well as at the highest levels of the college game. It’s part of what Hall of Fame coaches do.
Praise your players for their grit and determination. Praise Ulis, Poythress, Hawkins and Lee for making the critical plays they made. Praise Calipari for having his team ready to perform. Remind everybody that nobody, even Calipari, expected Kentucky to make all those shots from distance. It happens.
Say a few words about why this rivalry is special. Tell everybody about how much you’re looking forward to the beginning of Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Goodbye.
Didn’t happen that way.
“Merry Christmas, everybody,” were the final three words Calipari delivered.
Pitino was last seen standing outside the U of L locker room in casual attire. Instead of exiting toward the media and across the playing court, he took a right turn, winding down a hallway behind the UK locker room, into a second hallway and then out the door.
It was the wrong move at the wrong time in the wrong game, especially when Pitino had so many reasons to praise his team as well as Calipari’s team.
Give Calipari credit. He benched Skal Labissiere. He challenged Poythress to play with thunder in the middle of Louisville’s zone. He encouraged Ulis to ignore cramps and grind for more than 39 minutes.
And John Calipari beat Rick Pitino one more time – on the scoreboard and in the Miss Manners' competition.
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