Kentucky vs. Louisville final score: 3 things we learned from the Wildcats’ impressive 58-50 win
Kentucky’s defense was astounding as the Wildcats remained undefeated on Saturday afternoon at Louisville.
There might not be a better contemporary rivalry in college sports than when Louisville plays Kentucky in basketball. With both teams undefeated and ranked in the top five, Saturday afternoon’s matchup at Louisville took on even more meaning. The game lived up to the hype, but eventually Kentucky’s size and athleticism was too much for the Cardinals to overcome. Kentucky moved to 13-0 with a 58-50 victory on the road.
It wasn’t pretty, with physical play and foul calls defining most of the action. Louisville simply couldn’t find a way to score on Kentucky’s ferocious defense. The Cardinals shot just 25.9 percent from the floor.
The complexion of the game changed in the second half when freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyler Ulis started to assert their will. Towns was a monster defensively and on the glass, finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds on the night. Ulis hit several huge shots to finish as the team’s leading scorer with 14 points.
Star junior Willie Cauley-Stein only finished with five points (and four fouls) for Kentucky, but he did it with style:
It just wasn’t a good offensive night for the Cards. Terry Rozier led Louisville in scoring with 15 points, but he shot just 5-of-18 from the field. A first half three-pointer from Shaqquan Aaron were the only bench points Louisville got all night. Louisville finished with just one assist the entire game.
Kentucky led 22-18 at halftime as both teams struggled to score from the field. Louisville missed some open shots, including a breakaway layup by senior Wayne Blackshear and several good looks from three-point range by the starting backcourt.
Here are three things we learned from Kentucky’s win:
Tyler Ulis kept Kentucky humming
This was not Andrew Harrison’s best game. Kentucky’s sophomore guard led the Wildcats to the national title game a year ago as a freshman, but he didn’t display the same steady hand against Louisville on Saturday. With Harrison missing shots and turning the ball over throughout the night, Calipari turned to his freshman point guard to save the day. He answered the call.
Ulis was terrific even after sustaining a cut above his eye in the first half. He hit some key shots in the second half to extend the Kentucky lead, one the Wildcats would never surrender. While Harrison finished with three points and six turnovers on 1-of-6 shooting, Ulis didn’t turn the ball over once and chipped in 14 points on offense. Ulis’ pressure defense was tremendous as well, just as it has been all year. Kentucky couldn’t have gotten to 13-0 without him.
Both these teams are ferocious defensively
Kentucky entered this game No. 1 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings. Louisville entered at No. 2. Each of them clamped down for 40 minutes of tough, physical basketball, and both the feel of the game and the stats from it backed this up.
Kentucky is known for its unparalleled size and length at every position, but particularly inside. Louisville does it with a relentless press. While the styles may be different, there’s no denying both of these defensive squads are special.
Fans in the state have a way of comparing Louisville and Kentucky only to one another, but these clubs will really shine defensively in conference play. Teams in the ACC and SEC better be ready, because it won’t be easy to score on the Wildcats or Cardinals.
Louisville needs to start making outside shots for another deep run in March
Louisville gets so much of its scoring from turning defense into offense, but that becomes a problem when the Cardinals can’t turn the other team over. In a halfcourt setting, Louisville’s guards will have to keep defenses honest with a few outside jumpers or else opposing teams are just going to pack the paint.
Rozier’s pull-up mid-range jumper is nice, but he was 1-for-5 on three-pointers. Chris Jones is a defensive specialist, but he doesn’t give Rick Pitino much on offense. Jones finished the night 3-for-15 from the field and 1-of-5 on three-pointers in the loss.
Louisville has became a great postseason team in recent years because of its defense, but it won’t be easy this year without Russ Smith and Luke Hancock if the Cards’ perimeter players can’t find a way to start hitting.