No. 16 Kentucky Bounces Back, Dominates Louisville | Zagsblog
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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.
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Monday / June 17.
  • No. 16 Kentucky Bounces Back, Dominates Louisville

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    This matchup was labeled as a “must-win” for both teams.

    Though he doesn’t agree with the idea of “must-win” games in December, John Calipari, and his freshmen-laden Kentucky team overwhelmed in-state rival Louisville 91-60 in Rupp Arena Friday afternoon.

    The last time the Wildcats beat the Cardinals by 20-plus points was in 2001.

    Securing a home victory on Friday was vital for Kentucky, as their best win at Rupp this season was against a Virginia Tech team who lost to St. Louis earlier this year.

    Louisville led midway through the first half, but the Wildcats used a 17-2 run to make it an 11 point game and the lead only increased as the game progressed.

    Kentucky received a huge contribution from freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who dropped a career-high 24 points along with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Gilgeous-Alexander was named MVP of the game by the Bluegrass Sports Commission. Award winners in recent years have been Louisville’s Quentin Snider (2016), UK’s Tyler Ulis (2014/2015), and James Young (2013).

    Coming into the contest, Gilgeous-Alexander was averaging 9.6 points per game but hasn’t had his breakout performance yet. With the show he put on against the Cardinals, it’ll be interesting to see if Coach Cal implements Gilgeous-Alexander into the starting lineup which would most likely force Quade Green to come off the bench.

    That kid smiles, and I asked him after — I don’t know if it’s a Canadian thing I don’t know what it is,” Calipari said. “I’ve got some guys still feeling the weight of the world. They miss a shot, they shrug their shoulders, they get pushed, something happens, they — and again, these kids are 18 and 19 years old. So some of it’s expected, but Shai, he just plays.”

    “I think it was just the mindset I had going into this one,” Gilgeous-Alexander added. “I was more confident going into this game, watching film and seeing where I could pick my spots and get into the lane. And, I just think that I did that today.”

    The Wildcats were 6-of-13 (46 percent) from behind the arc, which is a step up from its season average of 36 percent. The main recipe for Kentucky’s success was its ability to get to the free-throw line. The Wildcats went to the stripe 30 times, converting on 24 of them. On the other hand, Louisville was 10-of-13 from the charity stripe but shot 3-of-25 (12 percent) from 3-point land.

    PJ Washington scored 16 points and grabbed 7 rebounds for Kentucky. The freshmen backcourt duo of Hamidou Diallo and Green chipped in 14 and 13 points, respectively.

    “We’re no longer freshmen. I’m not saying it anymore,” Calipari told his team before the game. “And the other thing I said: We’ve got to start smashing people.”

    The Cardinals were led by Deng Adel‘s 13 points while V.J. King and Ray Spalding each had 12. The star player in Louisville’s win over Kentucky last year, Snider was quiet this time around as he finished with 7 points and was 3-of-11 from the field.

    David Padgett‘s team has dropped all three of its match-ups with KenPom top-25 teams: Purdue, Seton Hall, and Kentucky. Heading into ACC play, the Cardinals’ best victory is at home against Indiana on Dec. 9 and they are still trying to find their identity.

    “I don’t know if we’ve 100 percent found that yet,” Padgett said. “You know, we’re going to have to be a great defensive team. We’re going to have nights where we don’t shoot the ball well. We’ve had moments this year where we were able to overcome it with our defense, but we’re going to have to really rely on our defense. There is going to be a lot of learning lessons from this game, we just have to build on those.”

    In ESPN Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology, the Wildcats were a No. 5 seed while the Cardinals were a No. 8 seed. With the outcome of this game, both teams will likely see a change in their seeding.

    Kentucky (10-2) will open up SEC play on Dec. 31 against Georgia at home while Padgett will get his first taste of conference play as a head coach at Louisville (10-3) against Pittsburgh on Jan. 2 at the KFC Yum! Center.

    Photo: @KentuckyMBB

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