The regular season Kentucky/Louisville games rarely live up to their postseason counterparts, but UK fans were treated to a classic triumph of good over evil this afternoon. In a defensive showdown, the Cats beat the Cards 58-50, giving UK fans bragging rights yet again. Let’s break down every bloody minute.
The freshmen led the way
Thirty-nine of UK’s 58 points came from freshmen. In their first true road game. Against UK’s arch rival. Where I come from, that’s called moxy. Courage. Heart. All of the good words and none of the bad. “I like my freshmen,” Cal said afterwards in true Cal fashion. “I know there are other good freshmen in the country, but I’ll take mine.”
Tyler Ulis and Karl Towns were especially terrific, leading the team with 14 and 10 points, respectively. Down the stretch, they played with the poise of veterans, pushing UK’s lead back to a comfortable margin after things got tight. “If we can take it, we can make it,” Towns said, quoting the movie “Unbroken,” the true story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympian turned WWII airman that spent years in a Japanese war camp. The team saw the movie last night, and while comparing UK’s undefeated dreams to a soldier withstanding torture is a bit heavy-handed, the war analogies seem fitting after today’s bloodbath.
Because it was actually a bloodbath
Tyler Ulis took an elbow to the eye from Chris Jones early in the first half, which drew blood and forced Ulis to go back to the locker room to get bandaged up. On the other side of the ball, Jones proceeded to give the flop of all flops after a phantom elbow from Dakari Johnson, prompting the entire internet to make fun of him.
With Andrew Harrison struggling, Ulis rose to the task, scoring 12 points in the second half. As Ulis’ bandages grew in size, so did his heroics. After the game, he couldn’t meet with the media because he was already getting stitches. “He was really good today,” Cal said of Ulis. “That’s the best I’ve seen him play since I’ve coached him.” Pitino even devoted a few seconds of his two-and-a-half minute press conference praising Ulis. “I’ve loved him from the moment I started watching him. He’s a great point guard.” In a knockdown, drag out fight between giants, how great is it that the smallest guy came out on top?
Devin Booker knows. “He’s incredible,” Booker said of Ulis. “He’s showing people – you guys – things you haven’t seen out of him before, but I’ve seen it because we’ve played on camps and teams all the time, so it’s nothing new to me. He’s a real special player.”
The best stat of the game? Ulis and Devin Booker played fifty-four minutes with no turnovers. “I haven’t looked at that, but that’s pretty impressive,” Cal said when he heard the stat. Meanwhile, Louisville only had one assist the entire game. Woof.
Put your cluttermuffs on
While Tyler soared, Andrew struggled. The only downside of today’s win is the inevitable Tyler vs. Andrew storyline, which the national media is already pouncing on. Calipari knew it before he took the podium. “I was happy for him,” Cal said of Ulis’ performance. “I was disappointed for Andrew, because I know how good Andrew is.”
There’s no nice way of saying it: Andrew struggled today. It was not his game. The steely, solid sophomore we all got used to reverted to his freshmen self, and there’s one screenshot that could haunt him for a while. While the rest of his teammates leapt from the bench and cheered after a huge Devin Booker layup, Andrew sat. Simply put: not his day. Cal’s still in his corner, though. “I told him, ‘Man, I love you. I got your back. You’re my point guard. Stop it.’ He’s down,” Cal said. The Andrew haters will be out tonight, but remember: Andrew’s three with 4:41 left was HUGE. Even after his worst game of the season, he came through in the clutch.
“What I have is two terrific point guards, who I can play together if I choose,” Cal said. Be thankful for that.
There are games, and then there are wars
This game had an odd feeling ninety minutes before tip-off. When pictures started coming in of UK fans pouring into the Yum Center in droves, I knew it was going to be one of those games. When the UofL student section chanted “F*** UK” when the players took the court, they responded in the best possible way: smiling, laughing, and proving who’s boss on the court. In fact, when the game got physical–and boy did it get physical–Kentucky kept its cool. “These young kids came in here and performed. They weren’t rattled,” Cal said. “They stayed focused on the court, and the game was physical. That was more physical than the Texas game and I didn’t think that was possible.”
It seems like UK/Louisville always comes down to the rebounding battle, and today, the Cats came out on top again, owning the boards 46-33. “We survived. We had stitches, but we rebounded our brains out,” Cal said. Shoutout to Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, and Dakari Johnson, who had nine rebounds a piece.
Rick didn’t have a lot to say afterwards
While Calipari would have talked for hours after the game if they had let him, Rick Pitino only spoke to reporters for two-and-a-half minutes, taking only two questions. After his seventh loss to John Calipari in eight meetings, Pitino had no choice but compliment the Cats. “At some point, we were going to have to make some shots, and we couldn’t,” Pitino said. “They are one of the great defensive teams I’ve seen in my 40 years.”
Meanwhile, Swaggy Cal couldn’t shut up
I wasn’t there, but by reading the quotes, it sounds like John Calipari strutted into the Yum Center media room like Vince McMahon. If there had been an office chair on the podium, he would have spun around. I’m shocked that once he was done, he didn’t drop the mic.
“I’ve got a good team,” Cal gushed. “I really have a really good team. I have nine guys. I’m going to continue to platoon. I’m not changing.” (How Calipari is it that even though he’s definitely not platooning anymore, he’s STILL calling it platooning??)
“I’m having a ball coaching this team,” Cal grinned. “I wake up every morning whistling and skipping. This is the greatest group, and I’ll tell you why: selfless.” Selfless with apparently plenty of room to improve. While the rest of us allow our undefeated dreams to climb back out of the cellar, the team will spend the next ten days in Camp Cal, doing drills, scrimmaging against one another (arguably their best competition all season), and strengthening their resolve for conference play. Cal told reporters that he wants to add some zone, a rotating press, and more offensive sets during the break. “We have nine days to get my team right.”
For now, take heart that you’re watching something special, which Calipari can no longer deny. “Let me say this,” Cal said at the close of his postgame remarks. “It’s not always like this. We just happened to — the moon and the stars have connected, now let’s see what we can do with this.” Karl knows too. “We can do magical things.”
You already are.