Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Louisville Wins Bluegrass State Battle Over Kentucky Behind Quentin Snider, Defense
BY: MIKE McCURRY
With Louisville embarking on a brutal four-game, 15-day stretch starting Wednesday, it was paramount that the Cardinals get off to a hot start.
That they did—and as an added bonus, the stretch began with a 73-70 victory over archrival Kentucky.
Behind 22 points from Quentin Snider and 18 points from Deng Adel—both of which resulted in personal career-highs—Louisville (11-1) won for just the second time in ten tries over Kentucky (10-2) in the John Calipari Era.
The 50th all-time meeting between the schools also served as the first true road game for Kentucky this season. The Wildcats have now dropped six of their eight such contests since Calipari took over in 2009-10.
“It’s December 21st,” said Calipari in the postgame presser. “We start four freshmen and a sophomore. We’re not ready to go on an opponents’ court that’s a top-ten team and win. We’re just not. And thank God it’s December 21st. I got a lot of time.”
While De’Aaron Fox (21 points) had little trouble acclimating himself to the KFC Yum! Center’s hostile environment, the same could not be said for some of his teammates.
Malik Monk, coming off a 47-point masterpiece against UNC on Saturday, scored 16 points on 6-of-17 shooting against Louisville, including a 1-of-9 showing from behind the arc.
“We shadowed him,” said Rick Pitino of Louisville’s defensive plan on Monk. “We tried to deny him. Every time he came off a screen, we said ‘Let’s just keep the ball out of his hands.”
Isaiah Briscoe (8 points, 1-of-5 shooting) also struggled, and Bam Adebayo missed five of six free throws.
As a unit, Kentucky totaled 13 turnovers and ten assists, the latter of which matched a season-low.
We were all aware of Louisville’s defensive prowess entering the game. It’s no coincidence that the Cardinals have the nation’s top Defensive Efficiency, according to KenPom.
But consider that Louisville outscored Kentucky in crucial offensive categories such as points in the paint (34-32) as well as second-chance points (11-4).
Where did that come from, out of a Cardinals offense that many were skeptical about?
“I just felt everybody was aggressive on offense,” Pitino said. “We’ve been, in the past, aggressive on defense, but I thought we were aggressive on offense.”
There’s no better example of that than Snider. Last year in a loss to Kentucky, the Louisville native missed all five shots he took, unable to tally a single point in 28 minutes of action.
According to Lexington Herald-Leader’s Ben Roberts, former Kentucky guard and current Phoenix Sun Tyler Ulis sent a text to Snider after that game, urging him to be more assertive.
Snider certainly was on Wednesday, whether via turning the corner on a ball screen and getting all the way to the rim or taking a tough jumper. Even more impressive about Snider’s performance was that he was constantly being checked by Fox, one of America’s premier perimeter defenders.
Hopefully for Louisville, Snider and Adel will use Wednesday as a launching point. The Cardinals’ next three games are home vs. Virginia, neutral vs. Indiana, and at Notre Dame.
That doesn’t exactly leave Pitino with a ton of time to celebrate the Kentucky triumph, though he was able to appreciate two epic games played by his former program over the course of the last five days.
“When you see college basketball like that with these great games—North Carolina-Kentucky and us, it’s just great for our game,” Pitino said.
As for Calipari, he put the loss to Louisville in perspective as it pertains to the upcoming holidays.
“It’s a great win for them. They’ll have a better Christmas than us.”
Photo: Cardinal Sports (Rivals)
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