John Calipari walked through the concrete bowels of Louisvilleâ€™s KFC Yum! Center, stepped behind the podium inside the media center and flashed a barely concealed grin of satisfaction. And why not? His team, the University of Kentucky — the biggest collection of All-Americans ever assembled under one banner just beat their deadly intra-state rival Louisville. Handily.
For some, Saturdayâ€™s matchup between University of Kentucky (1) and University of Louisville (4) that ended 58-50 in Kentuckyâ€™s favor would be the biggest test for either team. Both are defensive powerhouses capable of shutting down even the slickest of offenses but a question remained. Who would break and leave the arena with their undefeated record intact?
For Louisville the game was a catalogue of offensive errors. One assist the entire game. A self-destructive 21% success rate shooting from the field in the first half that only saw fit to go up to 26% by gameâ€™s end. Three 3-pt shots made on 14 attempts. Make no mistake, Louisville played badly on offense, matched Kentucky on defense for long stretches, but succumbed to the same fate as every other Wildcats opponent â€“ lack of depth and physicality.
Sure, Terry Rozier may be the only Louisville player who can walk away from the game with some form of pride having top-scored with 15, pairing that with 8 rebounds, but his team mates will know they needed to do a lot better.
For Kentucky, one many highlights was the play of point-guard Tyler Ulis, who notched 14 points and through whom much of Kentuckyâ€™s offense was directed. Elsewhere Karl-Anthony Towns added 10 points and 9 rebounds, while Aaron Harrison added two crucial 3-pt baskets.
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino the served to illustrate that when confronted with one of the best recruiting classes in history, his troops like every other before them were no match for Calipariâ€™s platoons. His team is a Final Four contender, no doubt. But Louisville lost the battle on Saturday and come April, they may lose the war along with everyone else.
“They [Kentucky] are one of the best teams defensively that I have seen in my last 40 years of coaching,” explained Pitino.
“We don’t have much of a bench right now…and I think that they [Kentucky] wore us down in the second half a little.”
â€œComing into the game we knew we were good on defense but the question was whether we could score. We could not.â€
For Calipari the game may have been a stern test, but it was ultimately passed with flying colors by his star-studded roster. And despite claiming that the remaining games of the regular season will still pose a challenge, itâ€™s obvious to anyone who witnessed Kentuckyâ€™s victory at the KFC Yum! Center that itâ€™s safest not to bet against the Wildcats going undefeated for the remainder of the season.
A win against Louisville ensures that Kentucky will likely not play a tougher opponent until the NCAA tournament because Lexingtonâ€™s finest drove 90 miles to their rivals and showed few signs of ever being truly troubled against a team only 3 spots lower in the rankings. The hype is still utterly deserved.
â€œI don’t want arrogance,â€ explained Calipari. â€œI want swagger. You earn swagger by working hard, playing well and trusting your teammates.â€
As for the rest of the season Calipari is planning on enjoying the ride.
â€œI’m having a ball coaching this team. Every morning I wake up whistling and skipping. I have the greatest group of kids.â€
Â Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune