LOUISVILLE — The first Kentucky-Louisville men's basketball game in the KFC Yum Center had turned into a burning cauldron of emotion.
Down 46-28 early in the second half, the host Louisville Cardinals had pulled within nine, 54-45, with 9:46 left in the game.
The 22,803 fans filling U of L's sparkling new arena were aflame.
Brandon Knight was cooler than dry ice.
With the shot clock running down and the game's momentum hanging in the balance, Kentucky's freshman point guard found himself with the basketball on the right wing.
The 6-foot-3 Floridian feinted right, took a hard dribble left, then rose up for what felt in the moment — and feels now — to be the biggest shot of the 2010-11 grudge festival that is Cats vs. Cards.
Said Knight: "They had been playing me (to the) right for the drive, so I kind of jabbed right, took one dribble left and rose up and shot it."
Kentucky whipped Louisville 78-63 Friday. In an entertaining New Year's Eve matchup played without the chippiness and malevolent air of last season's encounter, John Calipari ran his record against U of L to 2-0 as UK head coach.
With no slight to Kentucky big man Josh Harrellson, whose tour de force performance of 23 points and 14 rebounds will live long in UK-U of L rivalry lore, the biggest reason was UK's freshman point guard, Knight.
To the long line of Kentucky guards — Chapman, Sparks, Rondo, Meeks, Wall — who left their stamps on the UK-U of L series with games of individual excellence, you can add Knight.
The freshman had a game-high 25 points and, though he had five turnovers, nevertheless handled himself mostly with aplomb against Rick Pitino's signature full-court pressure.
"I thought Brandon had a great floor game," Calipari said afterward. "If you had been with us in Hawaii, it was a little scary, because he was not running our team. He was trying to score and make fabulous plays. Now he's running our team, and he still scores."
The Knight who showed such poise against Louisville's swarming defense was a far cry from the freshman who made only three of 15 shots and had five turnovers in UK's loss to Connecticut in the finals of the Maui Classic.
"In Hawaii, I was trying to find myself and my role with the team," Knight said. "Coach hadn't really structured my game yet or told me what I really needed to be focusing on. (After Maui) he just kind of laid it out for me, what I need to be doing."
Against U of L, what Kentucky (11-2) needed Knight doing was keeping his team under control and organized against Pitino's four-guard lineup and its attempt to create chaos.
In Louisville's 11-1 start to the season, every team it had played had turned the ball over at least 16 times. With Knight doing the majority of the ball handling, Kentucky had only 13 turnovers.
For the Cards to have a chance against the longer Cats, they had to create points off of turnovers. Yet it was actually UK (23-15) that came out on top of that stat battle.
"With it being so loud, with him being pressured so much, it could have been real difficult for the point guard not to just go and try to score — and he used to do that," Kentucky forward Terrence Jones said of Knight. "But he really stayed (under control) and ran the plays. It helped us."
That Knight has figured out how to do that while remaining an offensive threat was vital for the Cats.
In the first half, he scored seven points in a row that took the Kentucky lead from 21-16 to 28-18.
The second half saw him drain the game's most vital jumper.
"He stepped up and made shots when they needed him,'' Louisville guard Preston Knowles said of Knight.
After the trey that extended Kentucky's advantage to 57-45, U of L never cut the deficit under 10 the rest of the way. Knight helped make sure that was the case by making seven of eight free throws in the second half.
Said Pitino: "Knight is fast, he is under control, he makes free throws, and he shoots it. I think he is very good."
When UK-U of L was burning hotter than a blast furnace, Knight was cooler than a polar ice cap.
Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or email@example.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.