It’s never a good start when most people are talking about whether you’ll beat the spread versus whether or not you’re going to win. And as promised by fortune and fate the Louisville Cardinals played to form and fell 63-86 to the Cats at Rupp on a rainy Saturday New Year’s Eve. But baby, we beat the spread.
And yet we must face the fact that UK is not a good basketball team. Watch the first five minutes of the second half. Heck, watch the entire game. The Cats look good only in contrast. But Kentucky Revised Statute 1792.06 states that at least one UK player must flat go off on the Cards each year. So congratulations to Jacob Toppin who previously averaged just under 10 points a game but rattled off 24 going 10 of 15 from the field.
The previous paragraph is not fully meant to diminish UK but rather spotlight once again the criminal nature of Louisville’s perceived lack of effort and performance. Highlights were El Ellis’ tenacity both in the paint and on the perimeter along with Brandon Huntley-Hatfield’s somewhat unexpected performance against Tshiebwe.
But highlights and lowlights seem to blend together this season. El’s tendency to pick up his dribble, Huntley-Hatfield’s flat-footed defense and general lack of movement. And of course the unforgivable sin of an out-of-bands traveling violation. But both El and Brandon did seem to understand the criticality of this game for both the fans and their own season. Despite going 7-16 from the field El managed to put in 24 through sheer force of will. And the way Brandon squared up with Oscar Tshiebwe (despite a clear disadvantage) is to be commended.
But damn this was bad basketball. It feels wrong to call it the Battle of the Bluegrass. As Governor Any Beshear neutrally took his seat for the second half I wondered if he should put in an executive order to temporarily name it the Skirmish of the Bluegrass. ****show of the Bluegrass might be too much.
The Cats outperformed the Cards in every category. Heck, it took just over five minutes for Louisville to notch its first rebound with a final tally of 33 to 20 in UK’s favor. Post-game Kenny Payne commented on how he had focused on rebounding for three or four days this week in practice, but without much to show for it.
Post-game Kenny was lots of smiles and plenty of hugs, but the faces of Mike James and El Ellis at the podium said it all. Coach Payne once again emphasized his desire to build a culture of will and brotherly love within the program, stating he would continue to bombard his players with repeated guidance. He also said it was up to his players to listen.
Hard to see even the most strident supporters sticking with their man. John Calipari said he appreciated UofL coming out hard in the second half as it showed him whether his team had the toughness to deal with adversity.
In other words, he thanked his old buddy for the friendly scrimmage. Shit.
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