By Mark Bacon
“Winner winner chicken dinner!!”
That was the first text that came into my phone after the Louisville Cards defeated the Kentucky Wildcats. It came from my colleague and brother, Raashaan Meyer. Indeed I owe him said meal. I bet against my heart. But it was a wager that is not so weirdly off base. Raashaan’s confidence was surprising and odd, given the history of the Cats v. Cards in the CRP Era. Haven, too. He stated the Cards would prevail, 76-71. I still wasn’t sure.
We did. Eerily by 73-70. I’m fond of stating “Vegas knows things,” but now? HH3 and Raashaan do, too.
How did it happen?
The Pitino Era has yielded many great moments for the Cards’ Cagers. But going against UK wasn’t one. Rather a moment to endure. Get it over with. Cal owned Rick. He stocked his pantry year after year with Golden Arches Superstars. We didn’t have a chance. I was certain that script would play out given Louisville’s propensity to go on prolonged scoring droughts this season. If only they could shake that off and score, coupled with an increasingly efficient defense, we might win? Maybe?
Louisville dictated the pace and tempo. Almost the entire game, too. Kentucky entered averaging 95.2 points per game. An average possession time of 13.8 seconds. Louisville held the Wildcats to 38.9 percent shooting and forced 13 turnovers. Kentucky scored a season-low 70 points.
The Cards are also ranked number one in the country in defensive efficiency. While their defensive effort was not a total defensive clampdown–D’Aaron Fox scored 21 points–Louisville’s length bothered the Cats. For once, we were the taller, longer team. UK also has only three go to offensive weapons–Monk, Adebayo and Fox–so one key was to stay up on them. We did.
Poor shooting plagued UK, too. The Wildcats hit only 5 of 21 3-pointers and star Malik Monk finished only 6 of 16 for 16 points after scoring 47 points against North Carolina last week.
“We got this.” Another text from Raashaan during the second half when Louisville made an 8-0 run, capped by an alley-oop lay-up by Adel, to go from down four to up four, 61-57, with 5:33 to play. The KFC Yum! Center seemed more full of life and louder than I can remember ever hearing. Folks stayed in their seats, resisting the allure of the Bourbon Bunkers in the lower bowl of the Yum! Center. The Cards led the rest of the way.
The U of L win snapped UK’s four-game winning streak against its cross-state nemesis; it got the Monkey, er, Cats off Pitino’s back. And it served as a national coming-out party of sorts for Snider, a Louisville native, and Adel, a sophomore. Jaylen Johnson was inspired and energized, too. Ray Spalding made the kind of contributions not necessarily reflected in the box score, but watching the game? He continues to be invaluable.
Snider was 10-of-19 from the field, making two 3-pointers. He added six rebounds, five assists and two steals. Adel was 5-of-10 and had six rebounds. Jaylen Johnson contributed 14 points and six rebounds.
The teams traded leads nine times and were tied 10. But it was the 8-0 surge that made the difference for the Cards. Plus, a chicken dinner for my colleague.