John Clay: Cards no match for Cats' cool competence

Harrellson, not Yum, is center of attention in UK victory

jclay@herald-leader.comJanuary 1, 2011 

LOUISVILLE — Louisville had the glitz.

Kentucky had the grit.

Louisville had the juice.

Kentucky had Jorts.

The last lesson of 2010: It's not what happens in the comfortable seats or the beverage clubs or the luxury boxes in a basketball arena that counts. It's what happens on the floor of a basketball arena that counts.

Saturday afternoon, Louisville might have had its posh new digs of the KFC Yum Center ripe for a New Year's Eve blowout party, but Kentucky had the talent.

Freakish freshman guard Brandon Knight scored a cool 25 points to lead the Kentucky locomotive, but it was senior center Josh Harrellson, the old-school rail-splitter, who was the true hero, scoring 23 points and grabbing 14 rebounds to lead the Cats to a 78-63 basting of the home team.

Should have known that in this impressive $240 million hoops palace, with two traditional power programs on the floor and a pair of marquee names leading each bench, the man of the two hours would be a blue-collar workhorse whose old-school skills trumped the modern marvels.

"Josh," said UK Coach John Calipari, "I'm just proud of him."

Truth be told, Calipari had a whole team to be proud of — one that losing coach Rick Pitino said flatly afterward was "clearly the better team, by far."

Kentucky clearly had the superior talent, what with Knight, the mercurial Terrence Jones, the silky shooting Doron Lamb, plus DeAndre "DeFense" Liggins and the newfound aggressiveness of Darius Miller.

But the question was how would Calipari's collectibles hold up under the bright lights, booming sound system and amped-up atmosphere of Louisville's new arena?

Answer: Poise over pomp.

The Cats were composed. They didn't get flustered when down 12-6 early. They didn't get thrown off their game when Jones had a hard time getting into his game, scoring just two points in the first half. They didn't get rattled when all of a sudden Louisville, or Louisville's Preston Knowles, started throwing in successive shots in the second half.

The Cats themselves shot 68.2 percent the second half. They made 14 of 16 free throws in the game. They outrebounded Louisville 36-25. Why at one point, the home team had 19 rebounds, and Harrellson had 14. It was enough to send the Louisville faithful back to the Bourbon Bar for another round.

Plus, we must certainly mention that the 6-foot-6 Liggins took Louisville's point guard, the 5-9 lightning bug Peyton Siva, completely out of the contest, and sent Pitino into such a frustrated funk he was reduced to chastising longtime assistant Ralph Willard for not telling him he was about to use his last timeout.

Who would have thought that Terrence Jones would make a better adjustment than Pitino? After all, the 18-year-old learned to pass out of Louisville's constant double teams in the second half — and pass right to Harrellson for easy buckets.

"I was just trying to make myself available," said Harrellson, the man known as "Jorts" for his misguided belief that jeans-shorts are a fashion statement.

It's too early to say if Harrellson is this year's Brian Zoubek, the lumbering Duke center who blossomed at just the right time to help the Blue Devils to the national championship last season. But it's not too early to know that this Calipari club has a certain steely quality to go with its pleasing civility.

Cal said that where there was quite a bit of back-and-forth between the coach and his players last year — "Any of you sit close to our bench last year?" he asked with a smile — there is none of that with this group. This is more of a yes-sir, no-sir, what-do-we-need-to-do-sir? type bunch. And then they do it.

This team might not be as flashy as last year's team. There are no John Wall dances. There are no "Call-me" antics from a DeMarcus Cousins. There are no Eric Bledsoe explosions.

But as Louisville found out Friday, sometimes flash is overrated.

It's good to have a Taj Mahal.

It's better to have talent.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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