Cats fight off Cards for 71-62 win

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 3, 2010 

Kentucky and Louisville combined for five technical fouls, 37 turnovers and 22.6 percent three-point shooting on Saturday.

"As heated and emotional and physical, grabbing, pushing a game as I've coached in," UK Coach John Calipari said of the roller-derby action.

What UK's 71-62 victory over U of L lacked in style points it more than made up for in drama, guts and willpower.

The Rupp Arena record crowd of 24,479 could have (should have?) asked the Cats and the Cards to take a curtain call.

"Hats off to Louisville," said Calipari, who later in his post-game news conference noted the statistics that reflected UK's defensive excellence: U of L missed its first 14 shots, committed 19 turnovers and got credit for only five assists.

"And they still had a chance to beat us," Calipari said.

U of L Coach Rick Pitino, whose coaching chops were on full display, saluted Kentucky's palpable resolve.

"We thought we could win the game," he said. "But they made big plays and deserved to win."

With early UK leads of 11-1, 15-3 and 18-5 slowly ground down, Louisville got a nose in front at 42-41 with 9:51 left.

Enter UK freshman sensation John Wall to yet again update his storybook season. Wall hit a heavily contested driving layup, leaning back to get the shot over 6-foot-10 Terrence Jennings, to erase Louisville's only lead.

Then Wall hit a mid-range jumper that required touch and added two free throws on the next possession to ignite a 19-6 run that pointed Kentucky toward a milestone victory. The Cats improved to 15-0 to become the program's first team with that good of a start since Dan Issel's senior season of 1969-70.

Lost to many, perhaps, but not Pitino, was that until it mattered most Louisville caged Wall better than any UK opponent this season. Constantly harassed (what Pitino called mother-in-law defense in his salad days), Wall had only seven points and five turnovers until the teams hit the home stretch.

Pitino was moved to reference Michael Jordan.

"He wouldn't do his thing in the first quarter, the second quarter," the U of L coach said of Jordan. "But when the fourth quarter would come with the game on the line, he'd always make great plays.

"The tide had turned. We had momentum. ... He was not having a good night. But the great thing about that young man (is) it never bothered him. He never lost focus. He stayed with it and made two killer plays (against) us."

Calipari cited how Wall did not get rattled. That was saying something since U of L shook him like a palm tree in a hurricane.

"John stayed cool and calm," said teammate Patrick Patterson, who matched Wall's 17 points.

Wall's cool reserve did crack with 9:05 left when he and U of L's Jerry Smith got hit with technical fouls.

"Coach (Calipari) said don't talk to them," Wall said. "But don't let them punk you."

As a precaution, Kentucky worked all week on playing through contact. "He didn't want to hear no excuses," Wall said of Calipari's preparation.

Five fouls, three technicals and Calipari rushing an overheated Eric Bledsoe to the bench inside the first 45 seconds suggested this would be no game for the faint-hearted.

Louisville missed its first 14 shots and didn't score a field goal until Samardo Samuels tipped in a miss with 10:53 left. That was U of L's only basket until Jerry Smith stole a Ramon Harris pass and drove to a contested layup to post his team's sixth and seventh points with 5:50 left in the half.

Until then the Cards had made only one of 19 shots.

If Kentucky (10-for-30) shot a bit better, the game might have been over. But Louisville switched to a zone after DeMarcus Cousins (18 points and 18 rebounds) had his way early around the basket.

Kentucky didn't score a basket for almost nine minutes in the first half.

UK's turnover total climbed to 16 with more than 12 minutes left in the second half. That helped Louisville take its only lead. Jennings' free throw put the Cards ahead 42-41 with 9:51 left.

Then Louisville hit the Wall.

"The egos with young people today are so out of whack," Pitino said. "He (Wall) just relaxed. Did his job. We're turning him over. He didn't get frustrated. His demeanor (was), it's OK. The game will be on the line and I'll show my greatness."

Perhaps hidden among all the turnovers, missed shots and flares of temper, Kentucky showed its quality.

"If your team is good, you'll win an ugly game," Calipari said. "That's when you know you're all right."

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