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An outsider’s perspective on Kentucky’s dominant win over Louisville

As you all know by now, Friday might have gone down as the wildest sports day on the calendar in 2017 for the Kentucky Wildcats fan-base. Admittedly, most of you have had your fill of Music City Bowl content by my esteemed KSR colleagues, so instead I figured I’d focus on the basketball win over Louisville.

Even the dumbest outsider (me) knows how important this game was, not just because of the rivalry aspect of it, but because entering a brutal SEC, Kentucky needed as many signature wins as they could get. And outside of a victory over Virginia Tech two weeks ago, they really didn’t have one.

Instead, the Wildcats needed to bounce back after that sloppy game against UCLA last Saturday and did it Friday.

Here are some thoughts on the Wildcats’ win:

Kentucky’s best work couldn’t be found in the box score

If you read my write-up following the UCLA game, you know that what I thought was especially frustrating about that loss was the effort that Kentucky put forth. The players seemed a little too high coming off that Virginia Tech win, a little too eager to hit the Christmas holiday, and it showed in their effort. In essence, it seemed like every loose ball and hustle play went the way of the Bruins, and I wrote about Tuesday morning. Apparently John Calipari agreed, since he mentioned just hours later how he needed to see “more fight” from his team. (Clearly, he’s reading my articles at KSR).

Regardless, something had to change on Friday against Louisville. And it did. Kentucky dominated on the scoreboard, not so much because they were the bigger, more talented team (although that helped), but because they dominated in all of the areas that don’t show up on the box score. They played with more energy, effort and hustle, and attacked the rim off the dribble (especially Hamidou Diallo, Shai Alexander and even P.J. Washington). They also scrapped for every 50/50 ball, which led to second chance and trips to the foul line.

You can point to a million different stats in the box score, but more than anything, it was the intangible stuff, the things you can’t measure, which helped them not only win this game, but dominate.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was…. awesome

For anyone who has read my work here at KSR or listened to my podcast (and if you haven’t been listening, catch up on old episodes by clicking here) you know that at times I have been somewhat critical of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Not so much “critical” as I have been uncertain of why John Calipari has been so willing to play Shai so many minutes. Yes, we all know the tools are there (especially on the defensive end) but it feels like Quade Green has a better feel for running the offense and better ability to get points. On this team, those two skills are invaluable.

Except here’s the thing: As I learned on Friday, apparently I’ve been wrong the whole time and Coach Cal has been right (shocking, I know) and Gilgeous-Alexander showed why Cal has been insistent on playing him big minutes. Not only was he good on Friday against Louisville, but he was the best player on the floor by a mile. He attacked the rim effortlessly, finished, drew contact and got to the foul line. He hit a couple three-pointers, and in general, just completely controlled the game the entire time he was in.

And the best part was, his 24 points came on a crazy-efficient 16 shot attempts. It wasn’t like he was forcing the offense, but let the offense come to him.

As it turns out, maybe this Coach Cal guy knows what he’s doing after all, as the broadcasters said on Friday you have to imagine that as much as Shai is playing he might get even more time going forward. The scariest part is — that like his entire team — Gilgeous-Alexander is only starting to scratch the surface of his potential. It’s scary how good he could be by March, let alone a year or two from now.

Any Louisville player or fan complaining about fouls is an idiot

And I’m not saying this as the guy who writes for the Kentucky basketball website. I’m saying it as a guy who really has no vested interest in who won or lost Friday, but instead just wanted to watch a good game. Speaking of which, I not only watched the game live, but re-watched it early Saturday morning to make sure I didn’t miss anything. And after watching and re-watching I can tell you this: Anyone complaining about the foul discrepancy is an idiot.

You know why there was such a big foul discrepancy? Because Kentucky continually attacked off the dribble, ran the fast break at every opportunity, and scrapped and clawed for every loose ball they could get their hands on, which led to second-chance opportunities on the offensive end. Do that continually from the first play of the game (when Hamidou Diallo smashed a dunk down) to the last, and you’re going to get to the line a lot.

You know what’s not going to get you to the line however? Jacking up 25 three-pointers and turning over the ball a bunch, leading to transition opportunities for the other team. Which is exactly what the Cards did. Louisville players and fans can complain all they want, but that’s why they didn’t get to the free throw line.

It had nothing to do with the officiating.

Speaking of Louisville, I don’t know what their ceiling is… which is a shame

As I watched, and re-watched this game, I couldn’t help but think one team:

Why Rick Pitino?

Why… why… why?!?!?!

Why break every rule in the NCAA rule book to get Brian Bowen?

Understand, Bowen is a nice player, but one that wouldn’t have had an overwhelming impact on this team. The simple truth is that even without Bowen, the Cards had enough talent entering the year to compete for a Final Four berth. Seriously, Quentin Snider, Deng Adel and Anas Mahmoud are all nice, veteran pieces and I really like the way Ray Spaulding (probably Louisville’s best player on Friday) and V.J. King have come along. I like the freshmen too, including Malik Williams who literally has no conscious. Frankly, Louisville needed more players like him Friday.

Unfortunately, Pitino couldn’t help himself, went after Bowen and blew up what could have been a potentially really special season. And watching Friday, I now question what the ceiling of this team is. This team was never great offensively, but seemed to quit defensively, and as I’ve repeatedly written in this article, got outhustled in every way imaginable Friday.

David Padgett is doing his absolute best, but at 32-years-old and replacing a Hall of Famer, he had no chance to get this team to reach their potential. And now, without Pitino and without much fight, I really do wonder what the ceiling for this team is. Frankly, I think they’ll be lucky to make the NCAA Tournament at all.

Back to Kentucky, which got another stellar performance from Wenyen Gabriel

I know the stat sheet might not totally indicate it, but it was another stellar performance from Wenyen Gabriel. He had just three points off the bench, but added seven rebounds and a whole bunch of energy off the bench. This coming one game after he was basically the only bright spot against UCLA (16 points, six rebounds).

Gabriel doesn’t have the talent to be a “star” on this team, but it’s never a bad thing to have a guy who will bring effort, energy and hustle off the bench. More and more, it appears as though Gabriel is going to be that guy.

The best part for the Cats yesterday? They got a huge win without a big performance from Kevin Knox

Honestly, this has to be the part that has John Calipari the happiest. Not only did the Wildcats beat their biggest rival in a game where they by 30 points at various moments, but they did it without getting much from their best player. Knox finished with just eight points overall on 2 of 8 shooting, before he eventually fouled out.

Now admittedly, Kentucky obvious wants and needs to get Knox back on track, but at the same time this is an incredibly positive sign. First off, I would ask: How much would the Wildcats have won by if he actually played well? Two, how many teams could have beaten Louisville by 29 points if their best player didn’t play well? I’m guessing not very many.

Friday showed why I was so high on Kentucky coming into the preseason

When I made my preseason picks, I was virtually the only national media member who had Kentucky in the Final Four. And many other media guys scoffed at me. “Of course you would have Kentucky in the Final Four! You write for a Kentucky site.”

Yeah, I write for a Kentucky site, but I’m also always honest with my readers. And I’ve always believed that UK has the chance to be special this season. So after yesterday, I’ve got to ask all you fancy national writers: HOW YOU LIKE THEM APPLES?

In all honesty, it was days like Friday which are the reason that I picked Kentucky to go so far in the first place. Understand that when I picked the Wildcats in October, I wasn’t focusing on the team then, what they could be by March. And what they could be is club with crazy length and athleticism (sorry for using those two buzz words), that could kill you off the dribble and suffocate you on defense if they absolutely wanted to. I honestly had no idea if they would reach their potential or not, but if there is one coach in America that could get them there it is John Calipari.

And Friday, that premonition came true. Kentucky showed America everything they’re capable of being, in one of the most emphatic wins any college basketball team has had this season. And the scary part is, it’s only December 30th, and they’ve still got another two-and-a-half months before the NCAA Tournament. Can you imagine how good they could be by March?

It’s a scary thought for teams across the country.

Especially after Kentucky dismantled its biggest rival Friday.

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

21 responses to “An outsider’s perspective on Kentucky’s dominant win over Louisville”

  1. callitlikeiseeit

    Wow, you are putting way too much into us beating U6, they are not a good team. Yes it was great to destroy them as we should but we have no signature wins, Va Tech is not a great win either, especially at home. Neither win makes up for a bad UCLA loss. And you say brutal SEC………lol….The SEC is terrible and only reason we won’t run through it is our lack of experience. And to say How you like them apples to other writers…stupid….It takes a consistant run to win a title or get to the F4, something this team has not come close to showing they can do. It was 1 game, heck anyone can have a great game, look at Wofford beating UNC. You need a reality pill and quick. This team is too young to make a F4 run even though college basketball as a whole is down. The bad SEC should give us a good record but we are likely a 5 to 8 seed.

    1. callitlikeiseeit

      If we had a Trae Young type with this group it would give us a shot, maybe Shai could be that missing piece but experience and shooting will be what I think does this team in.

    2. JTHinton

      What about Baker?

    3. 4everUKblue

      Everyone said the SEC was bad last year. Remember last year, you the big tournament?

    4. 4everUKblue

      you know the big tournament?

    5. Booby Petrino

      I’m sure your stern talking here will really hit home with Aaron… Um… Not. It was a beatdown. The Cats played with fire. You are the most negative person on here, and no it isn’t bc you’re being real. Cats looked great yesterday, and the SEC isn’t terrible so there is plenty of time to get some good wins. We will not be a 5-8 seed. We will be a 2-3 seed and you can suck on that.

    6. 4everUKblue

      He calls it like he sees it Booby….it’s just that he’s ignorant and blind.

    7. Booby Petrino

      Lol excellent point 4ever

    8. bdmnky81

      Cause we have never had a deep Run as an 8 seed before. … smh…. seriously, it’s been 9 seasons of cal teams and some of you thick headed morons still using Tubby Era logic.

    9. Eazy

      SEC had 3 teams in the elite 8 last year. And this year the top incoming freshmen class of all conferences. SEC currently has 8 top 50 teams and will get 6-7 teams in the tournament. To think that’s bad is atrociously ignorant. It’s close to being the best conference in the country. UT beat Purdue. Arkansas beat Oklahoma. A&M destroyed WVU and OkSt. We beat two ACC teams. Even GA and LSU have solid wins.

    10. Eazy

      Oh, Florida beat UC and Gonzaga. Arkansas and Auburn drilled Uconn. SEC and ACC have the top records vs the Power 5. So the SEC is second at worst. And looking at the draft next year the SEC is by far the most talented league. Big 10 is the worst.

    11. unbridled

      Call it like a doof, ul is a good and talented team but even if they aren’t….the manner in which the cats played was quite impressive. To not see that perfectly illustrates that you have no clue what you are talking about.

  2. secatman

    Whatever UL’s ceiling is you can rest assured its wet !

    1. KYcats11

      Nice one

  3. BlueHeaven

    Speaking of Trae Young (39 pts today) do people think he would taken UK to the Final Four or would his game be detrimental to the team ball Cal teaches?

    1. bdmnky81

      Trae’s father already answered that question.

    2. 4everUKblue

      ^^^ BINGO!

  4. Luether

    Another good post, Aaron. Substance over style is still valued by some of us. I agree “Clearly, Cal’s reading my articles at KSR”. Ha!…

  5. EdC

    Taking bets on when this guy stops playing the oh gee I’m just an outsider card.

  6. Aar

    Great article, as usual, Aaron. I am really enjoying your contributions to KSR. I also enjoy that you defended the officiating above. We need more of that here.

    I’d like to explore Kevin Knox’s contributions yesterday a little more. With 8 rebounds, his contributions were not THAT minimal. I also think his overall defense was pretty effective. As Cal liked to say about MKG, great players find ways to help their team even when their shot is not falling. I believe Knox did that yesterday.

    I’d also like to give Knox credit in another way, please bear with me. I think UofL did a great job on him defensively. Early in the game they were PHYSICAL with him. He got hammered on every touch and bumped extensively when in motion. I have to give coach Padgett’s game plan and their players credit for Knox’s reduced offensive production in this game. They basically came at this game with the mindset of “we’re not going to let Knox beat us”. However, the rest of the Cats stepped up and delivered once Cal noticed what they were doing and adjusted. So, I give credit to Knox for giving the other Cats opportunities by pulling so much of UofL’s attention defensively.

    The other thing I noticed was that UofL keyed on Diallo almost as much as Knox – trying to take UK’s 2 best offensive weapons out of the game. Diallo’s quickness and athleticism was too much for them to handle. However, he had to work really hard for his points in the first half and paid for it by cramping alot in the second half. So, IMHO, UofL did a good job with their defensive game plan by focusing on Diallo and Knox.

    It was the Cats’ depth that made the difference. Through the first 14 minutes of the game, it was a tied up back and forth affair. When Mahmoud, Knox and a few others went to the bench and their subs entered the game the Cats pulled away and never looked back.

    Just like the Cats, IMHO, lost to UCLA in part because they were looking ahead to this game (checkout Cal’s tweet today), I hope they are not riding too much of a high off of it tomorrow. UGA is no cupcake and Yante Maten is much harder to take out of a game than Deng Adel (or even Kevin Knox)!

  7. chris43

    Louisville is a big rival but I would by no means consider them a signature win this year. The team played with great heart and effort. Hopefully they’ve turned the corner and realized they must give 110% EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY GAME. I’m not getting my hopes up too awful high as we’ll see soon enough with the game tomorrow. I’ve said it before but it kills me that we missed out on Trae Young supposedly due to him/his dad wanting him to take a lot of shots. He’s leading the league in points per game AND assists at the moment. Man we sure could have used that one this team. Kid makes freshman mistakes (as do our players) but man can he light it up from deep and pass. Last I saw had Oklahoma (a football school) ranked 15 and knocked off Wichita State and TCU on their home courts! If he can elevate the talent at OK to that….imagine what he could have did with this UK team. I normally don’t cry over spilled milk but every game I watch or highlight I see it always makes me wonder….what if?!? Now let’s go kick some Bulldog ass!!!