The annual Battle of the Bluegrass is always fun to banter back and forth about with opposing fans for about 360 days out of the year. The other 5 days leading up to the actual game? As a Kentucky fan, especially in years when the Cats are favored– those 5 days of anticipation and anxiety can be brutal. Even though Kentucky was the superior team on paper, when comparing match-ups, physically, etc. leading up to this afternoon’s battle of top-5, undefeated teams… the pressure can mount. Of course, we as fans have nothing to do with the actual outcome of the game, but it tends to hang over the holiday season until the result is actually solidified.
Kentucky entered the game as the #1 team in the country, accumulating more press clippings than Sarah Koenig (if you don’t know who she is, where have you been for the past few months in pop-culture?). Louisville put up a good fight and held Kentucky from breaking away as it has all season against other opponents. But in the end, even the 4th best team in the country (playing at home, on a day when Kentucky was offensively-challenged) couldn’t muster up enough to keep Kentucky from winning a 58-50 defensive slugfest. Louisville does have the honor of being the only team so far this season to only fall to Kentucky by single digits thanks to a late foul on a 3-point shot attempt.
Kentucky remains undefeated on the season with a win over the Cards
After last year’s roller coaster ride of a regular season, the “40-0” talk was muffled heading into this season. Even with a star-studded roster jam-packed with McDonald’s All-Americans and returning veterans, Kentucky fans and even the national media held off for a while on pinning such high expectations on this Kentucky team. After a drubbing of Kansas on national television, the whispers became casual conversation. When Kentucky reeled off a string of impressive wins and a blowout of UCLA, the casual conversation became “well, if they can just get past this Louisville game, the conversation has to be on the table.”
Well, Kentucky did it. The Cats are sitting at 13-0 with a perfect non-conference record and the task of navigating a mediocre at best SEC schedule ahead. While an undefeated regular season is not quite the likes of 40-0, it’s hard not to at least entertain the topic of conversation as a possibility for this Kentucky team. I’ve heard a lot of people say, “Surely we will have at least one really off game in the SEC and drop one somewhere along the way.” And my natural inclination is to agree. But then when I press myself to actually answer the question of, “who is going to be the team to do it?” I have a hard time coming up with an answer.
I still think an undefeated regular season is a dream better to be discussed in all seriousness toward the end of conference play, rather than 10 days before the first game is played. At the same time, this team is now chasing history and we all know it. The national media knows it. Calipari knows it. They know it. The season will not be made or broken on this team winning every game. For a team that is so highly talented though, it might prove to be exactly the necessary motivation to get them through the grind of conference play in an SEC that doesn’t scream of dazzling match-ups.
Calipari owns Rick Pitino
Calipari- 7 Pitino- 1
Slice it however you’d like, but John Calipari’s complete domination since arriving in Lexington of Rick Pitino has been a glorious thing to watch. Rick Pitino is personally enjoying some of his best days from a head coaching standpoint, while Louisville as a program has rarely been better either. For the Cards, it has been an incredible run the past few years. And yet… Kentucky, and perhaps more painfully to Pitino– Calipari, has just been even better.
Tyler Ulis was a standout
For all the talk of Montrezl Harrell and Willie Cauley-Stein, two players in the conversation for National Player of the Year, it was Tyler Ulis who stole the show this afternoon. Ulis has steadily been playing better and better in his freshman campaign as part of a two-platoon system at the point guard position. Today, on the grandest of stages in his first true road game as a freshman, Ulis played perhaps his best game. Ulis did not shy away from the moment at all, and even put the struggling Wildcats on his back at one point when Louisville went on a second half run. The crowd was poised to come alive, and then Tyler Ulis shut them down with a few big shots and an array of dazzling assists. If Ulis wasn’t scoring or setting up his teammates for easy baskets, he was playing relentless defense on the other end.
Ulis finished with a career-high 14 points, 0 turnovers, and 3 stitches above his high. Ulis drew praise from the college basketball media, his own coach, John Wall (via Twitter), and Rick Pitino who said he has “loved him since the moment I started watching him.”
That game wasn’t pretty, unless you appreciate phenomenal defense… from both teams
For the casual fan, a 58-50 defensive battle may not have been an exciting Saturday afternoon viewing experience. For those who appreciate incredible defense though, this Kentucky vs. Louisville match-up was one for the ages. It only took a few minutes into the game to realize that every single point was going to be a struggle for each team throughout the 40 minutes. As big man after big man from BOTH teams got rejected at the rim, it became obvious that each possession was going to matter in this game.
Rick Pitino called Kentucky “one of the great defensive teams I’ve seen in my 40 years.” And he’s right. This Kentucky team offsets its own offensive woes by making it nearly impossible for the other team to make an uncontested shot. Honestly though, if Kentucky did not exist this season…. this Louisville team might be talked about as one of the best defensive teams in college basketball. For as good as the Cats were today, the Cards weren’t far behind. If you enjoyed watching great individual AND team defense, this game was a thing of beauty.
As I mentioned before though, as good as Louisville has been… Kentucky has been even better.
Chris Jones plays too much Fifa…
In case you missed it, here’s the really nasty footage of the elbow Chris Jones took from Dakari Johnson.
Oh, right. Carry on.
Another reason to hate Indiana
Thank goodness for ESPN News picking up the beginning of the game, because otherwise I would be a lot more upset with Indiana right now for going into overtime in the game preceding the UK/UL game on ESPN2.
As the kids say, ESPN News was bae for that one.
Camp Cal begins this week…. and we all just wait, and wait, and wait
John Calipari will give his team a much-needed day of rest tomorrow after a tough physical battle against the Cards. Kentucky will then begin what has become dubbed as “Camp Cal” on Monday. Kentucky has 10 days before the kickoff of the SEC schedule, and Calipari plans to use this time to “make my team better.”
Sorry in advance to the rest of college basketball.