We knew going into this game that Kentucky were the underdogs this year. Heck, even the rankings would have told the most ignorant of basketball dilettantes as much. The Cards returned almost their entire Final Four team, while UK had Kyle Wiltjer as the sole Cat with any Louisville experience under his belt. Looahvull had the home-bucket advantage, tons of experience, and a chip-on-their should for motivation.
I’m not even gonna talk about the refs, because we had a chance to win it even the way they called it.
The loss, as we saw, was at least a hardfought one. Kentucky, like the Goonies, never said die. They lost, but they made a heck of a game out of what looked to be a blowout just a few minutes into the second half. The issue, though, was never one about how badly Kentucky needed to avoid losing the first game since B.C. (before Cal), as much as it was Louisville just needed to win one.
If they couldn’t win this year, well, they just can’t win it. Having already lost four straight has to be pretty demoralizing for a team, and for a fanbase. The talent Kentucky’s had over that span has been ridiculous (not “Russdiculous,” which I’m pretty sure is a slang word for “double-or-nothing”), and the talent next year looks to be just as good, if not better. If there was ever a soft spot in Kentucky’s armor, this year was it.
This was never Kentucky’s game to win; it was always Louisville’s to lose. And give them credit, they didn’t give it away even though they tried. But the very nature of the game, the motivations behind each mindset, paints a pretty clear picture of what this rivalry is, at least over the past few years: Kentucky’s playground.
This isn’t sour grapes. They won, fair and square, and played a great game. They legitimately look like a top-5 team. But let’s be real: this game was the exception that proved the rule. That this win “probably ranks as one of the top five biggest wins of [Russ Smith's] life,” according to the Junior guard himself, is pretty revealing.
This win was to Louisville’s entire program what Kentucky’s second-half run was to the game: a moral victory. A temporary solace that “at least we didn’t get blown out and made it interesting for a little bit.” Next year, Kentucky will be back to the hyper-talented dominance we’re used to seeing, and Louisville will be without Peyton Siva, who will probably graduate after 6 years or so, and several others. So let them enjoy this win. They earned it. But in the long run, it’s still #L1C4 in Cal’s tenure: Louisville – 1, Cats – 4. After last year’s Final Four victory, Kentucky has nothing to prove. Like the game tonight, the pressure is all on the Cards to show they belong. One victory isn’t going to change all that, even as well-played as it was.
So Louisville fans, at least for now, can claim that they’re the best team in the state. Considering their recent tournament losses to UK and Morehead, that’s a big deal for them. They needed it more than we did, so I ain’t even mad at ‘em.
I just wouldn’t get used to it.
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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