CRAWFORD | Day-after takeaways from Louisville's rivalry win over Kentucky
In this city and state, the rivalry trumps all. WDRB's Eric Crawford has three day-after takeaways from Louisville's 73-70 win over Kentucky on Wednesday night.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Perhaps all you need to know about this rivalry is that while University of Louisville and University of Kentucky were playing basketball Wednesday night, my parents, Byron and Jackie Crawford, were celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary.
At home. By themselves. Watching ESPN. They'll go out to dinner on Thursday.
And if you're reading this, and you live in Louisville, or anywhere in the state of Kentucky, you see nothing at all unusual about it. That's how things work around here.
But a rivalry is only as great as its competition. Kentucky had won eight of the past nine games in the series. It was time for Louisville to get one. That, of course, is not how these things work, either. You have to go out and earn it. Louisville did.
"They were all good," Kentucky coach John Calipari said after the Cardinals' 73-70 victory in the KFC Yum! Center. "They fought. All of them did what they were supposed to do -- made tough shots, came up with tough rebounds. . . . They are better than us right now, December 21."
The question right now for Louisville is how good can it be? The Cardinals are one late-game collapse (in their third game in three days, in a game they had led by 22 against a Baylor team now ranked No. 4 in the nation) from being unbeaten. They also could lose their next three if they don't turn in efforts as tough and disciplined as the one they turned in against Kentucky, with Virginia visiting next Wednesday and Indiana awaiting on New Year's Eve before a road trip to Notre Dame.
"They are a terrific team, that is going to get better and better," Pitino said of Kentucky, who he said impressed him with the way it fought just days after an emotional win over North Carolina. "I'm really delighted with the victory. It has been a while since we have beaten them. The crowd was electric and great. . . . Look, they've dominated us — somebody said you've played all these games and it has been decided by less than 10 points and I said that's not the way it works in basketball. You lose you lose, whether it is two points or nine. So, we've played good basketball against them, but they've had — and I say this — not only in victories but also in defeats — there are a number of programs, Kentucky is Kentucky."
The older you get, the tougher multitasking becomes. That's my main takeaway anymore in trying to combine media tasks -- social media, television, writing for the web. After pounding out a column for deadline, and TV or online video duties at 10:30 a.m., 6 and 10 p.m., and a series of Facebook videos after that, I sat down to create some deathless prose Wednesday night. There wasn't any. I had talked plenty on television, but not to a single player. You'll have to consult Rick Bozich for the story of the night, and the best storytelling, on Quentin Snider's evolution from scoreless against Kentucky a year ago to most valuable player Wednesday night. Read it here.
From me, then, you get a list of takeaways. In no particular order.
1). WATCHING THE COACHES: So much of this rivalry revolves around the two men in the center of it. Oh, we talk about the players. Yes, the players decide the outcome. But their coaches decide the tone.
A year ago, it was tense and terse. Pitino left Rupp Arena without speaking to the assembled media and let his fingers do the talking to a select group of fans who happened to be watching in the right (or wrong) moment in the tunnel after a 75-73 loss, while John Calipari held court as the life of the postgame party.
On Wednesday night, Pitino and Calipari at least could agree on this much -- both were headed directly home for Christmas after Louisville's victory, just the second for Pitino against Calipari in the 10 games since he has coached the Wildcats.
The victory just means Pitino will come back with a bit lighter load, the weight of a five-game losing streak to his old school lifted off his shoulders.
Pitino was headed straight out of the arena for a private flight to Miami to be with his family. Cal said only that he was "going to Christmas" and would be back in a few days. Pitino told reporters that he'd recently bought a small boat, the first he's ever had. He said he planned to do some fishing, and that if he'd lost this game, he just planned to, "call (sports information director) Kenny Klein and say, 'You take over.'"
Calipari, as he generally will do, blamed himself. He said his team was not disciplined, that it didn't shoot well, but with a more disciplined effort still could have won the game.
"If they're playing this way, I've accepted it – that's why it's my fault," Calipari said. "And I told them that in there. And when we tell you to do something, if you don't do it, you're coming out. So if I tell you how we're playing, if you break down defensively and do your own thing, you're out. It's the easiest way. The bench is my friend. That's it. We're telling you what we're doing and you just decide to do your own thing, you're out. It's not when you miss a shot, or you turn it over – no, no. If you're not doing what you are supposed to do for our team, it's discipline. And that's how you get a cohesive unit. . . . If you accept mediocrity as a coach, you're going to get it every time."
Calipari made a good halftime adjustment. He came into the second half determined to pound the ball inside to Bam Adebayo. But it wasn't well-executed by his players, who have been relying on their three-guard lineup for most of their scoring this season. Adebayo wound up taking only six shots in the game and in 75-plus possessions received only four post entry passes (he scored on all four). Calipari also was urging his players to drive the ball to the rim for layups or fouls, but too often they pulled up for jumpers.
Pitino called a couple of the game's more productive timeouts. Kentucky looked like it was about to get things going with a little more than 12 minutes to play. Kentucky had taken the momentum. Its defensive intensity had picked up. Louisville still led by three, but after a thundering dunk by Adebayo, Pitino called a 30-second timeout with 12:15 left in the game. Then got a full media timeout just a couple of minutes later. UK wound up taking the lead anyway, but it was a slow grind to a four-point lead.
Pitino also called a timeout with 8.2 seconds left and a three-point lead. He called it to set his defense. I only mention it for this reason: With Kentucky needing to go the length of the floor, he didn't put a man on the ball. Wildcats fans no doubt were thinking back to Christian Laettner's shot, when Pitino elected not to put a man on Grant Hill inbounding the ball against Kentucky.
He used the same strategy Wednesday. This time, he walked away a winner -- but only after Malik Monk's three from a spot where he'd scored just moments earlier fell short.
After the game, Pitino was asked about Calipari, and said this: "No one has recruited like John in the business. If you look at the NBA right now, you've got Karl Towns, you've got Anthony Davis, you got John Wall — they play great at the next level, so he's evaluated great. I knew him when he wasn't a great recruiter, and we played him in the Final Four when I was at Kentucky and he beat us early in the year. He is an outstanding teacher of the game, but sometimes when you get all of these great players, you don't get the credit for that. He puts those guys in areas that they can score. He's done a great job for a long, long time, and the talent that he assembles, the thing that is impressive to me, he doesn't miss much on evaluation. Like, (Alex) Poythress got hurt, but he doesn't miss much at evaluating. We all miss a lot in evaluating — he doesn't miss much. When he thinks a guy can play, the guy can really play."
2). TRACKING TEMPO. The pace of this game figured to be one of the biggest keys, and while Louisville didn't slow Kentucky a tone -- it did slow the Wildcats down enough. UK is used to getting around 80 possessions per game, and scoring better than a point per possession. Over its previous seven games, it had averaged 81.1 possessions per game and used 13.9 seconds per possession.
Louisville cut that by six possessions, holding Kentucky to 75. (The Wildcats burned an average of 14 seconds per possession.)
So the pace, roughly, was where Kentucky wanted it. It is capable of slowing games down much more, but the Cardinals needed a decent number of possessions themselves to be able to score enough to win the game.
After an early burst of fast-breaks (three before the first TV timeout), Kentucky got only three fast-break scores the rest of the game.
In some ways, however, Kentucky played too fast for the type of game it was. Neither team was particularly patient offensively.
"The execution of what we're doing, we're working on it every day in practice . . . we're not just flying up and down," Calipari said. "We're working on half-court stuff because I know if you're going to win a championship, it's not running up and down and pressing and trapping and crazy and fouling, because you're going to hit an official that's going to call fouls in that tournament and you're out. At the end of the day, a good coach is going to make you play half-court and you're going to make him play half-court, so we're working on it, but, again, we're 18 and 19."
Louisville's best offensive stretch came when it was patient, reversed the ball offensively and was looking to pass the ball. It was a clinic of all the things Louisville wants to do offensively.
It started with a four-pass possession, which set up Quentin Snider penetration in the lane. When the defense moved up to help, he slipped the ball to Jaylen Johnson in the short corner for a layup and a foul. On the other end, De'Aaron Fox attempted a straight drive into the lane off no ball movement, Mangok Mathiang jumped straight up to block his shot and Deng Adel was fouled on the rebound, making both free-throws. On Kentucky's next trip, Monk took a quick shot, a mid-range jumper, and Donovan Mitchell took the outlet pass. He used a hesitation step against Fox, and sneaked in a layup to put Louisville up by two.
Louisville has been among the worst-finishing teams in the country in transition. But if it can finish in transition, it becomes very dangerous. It's an area the Cards need to improve. Mitchell's move in these cases was under control, and he converted it. Then Kentucky hustled back down, and less than five seconds into the shot clock got an open look for Monk from the corner. He missed it, Johnson grabbed the rebound and Snider again triggered the half-court offense.
Again, it was outstanding execution, only a five-pass possession, but four players touched the ball and it kept moving. Snider reversed it to Johnson on the top right. He passed to Mitchell at the top of the key. Mitchell gave to Adel on top, who passed to Snider than rubbed off a Johnson down-screen toward the basket for a lob layup.
It took only 54 seconds of game time, but Louisville outscored Kentucky 8-0 to turn a four-point deficit into a four-point lead, and it never trailed again.
Louisville's culture is to be aggressive defensively. Pitino wanted his players to be aggressive offensively, and they were. Pitino saw on video that teams wind up taking a lot of jump shots against Kentucky, then the Wildcats are running the other way after the defensive rebound. Pitino wanted his team getting to the rim so that Kentucky would have to defend and face a battle for the rebound, hoping to slow down their break that way, while also allowing his own defenders to get back on missed shots.
"We made up our mind that we were going to reverse it and attack the rim, so we can get back on defense," Pitino said.
3). CONFIDENCE GAME. For Louisville, beating Kentucky was important, but it was just the first game in a series. Virginia comes to town in a week. Then the Cardinals face Indiana, and so on. For Louisville to win those games, it is going to have to have a high level of offensive execution, not just its normal defensive effort.
Deng Adel's 18-point, six-rebound effort was huge. The Cards need him to begin to play like the kind of scorer he can be. He's been playing well. He's doing everything well, rebounding, defending, moving the ball, but there's another step he can take as a scorer, and he began to take that step Wednesday night, getting to the free-throw line, making 2-3 from three-point range and playing good defense, along with Mitchell, on Malik Monk.
Mitchell is still struggling from the field overall -- he was 3-12 on Wednesday and missed some big shots late, but he made 2 of 5 from three-point range and hit two pressure-packed free throws, to stretch a one-point lead to three with 8.2 seconds left. And he may be one of the most under-appreciated defensive players in the ACC, given where he began on defense.
"You know, we expected Deng and Donovan to come of age this year, it's just going to take a little time, but this schedule will make you grow up in a hurry," Pitino said.
It also was one of the best games Louisville has gotten from Mathiang, who did not score but who held his own defensively and grabbed five rebounds. Louisville got 20 points and 13 rebounds from its four men, Johnson and Ray Spalding.
Kentucky lost the game, but was facing a difficult situation. The Wildcats were coming of a huge win over North Carolina, then had to go on the road for their first true road game at Kentucky. Calipari doesn't take the Wildcats into true road environments for non-conference games very often. In fact, Louisville is the only time this season he'll do it.
“It was good for us to have a game like this," Fox said. "First true road game. There’s not too many environments like this in the country, especially with this rivalry we have. We probably won’t go into another arena like this one, even in the tournament. It was good. I’m not going to say it was a good loss for us, but it was good to have this game as our first road game.”
Adebayo said, "It was just like playing at Rupp, except for the atmosphere's against us."
And then there was the player of the game, Snider. After going scoreless a year ago, one of the people encouraging him was Kentucky point guard Tyler Ulis, who texted him and told him to stay aggressive on offense. That led him to a career-high Wednesday night.
"I knew Q just because I was recruited by (Louisville), so I got to know the guys on my visit," Fox said. "I know most of the team. He had a big game. He had a big game today. He hit shots, he controlled the team. He basically controlled the pace of the whole game and made big plays.”
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