In a man's game Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist wasn't just the man.
He was Superman.
He was the one leaping over tall defenders in a single bound for a rebound, flying faster than a speeding bullet up the floor on a fast break, more powerful than a locomotive on a baseline drive through a thicket of defenders.
In a game of a combined 52 fouls, 70 free throws and 35 turnovers, the Kentucky freshman was the shining star of the long, hard slog.
He scored 24 points and grabbed 19 rebounds as Kentucky beat Louisville for the third consecutive season, this time 69-62.
"He wasn't bothered as much as some of the others by the physical play," said John Calipari, his record now 3-0 as the current Kentucky coach against the former Kentucky coach. "He almost relished it and just want after it. That's why he played the way he did."
Said Kidd-Gilchrist, "I was built for this."
Kentucky and Louisville might represent the upper stratosphere of college basketball rivalries, a pair of storied programs in the nation's most basketball-crazed state.
There was the rap star Jay-Z, taking a break from the pregnant Beyoncé, to sit across from the UK bench. There was Ashley Judd in her trademark Kentucky T-shirt waving to the crowd. There was Clark Kellogg and the national CBS cameras.
But Saturday's showdown wasn't contested so much in the celestial stars as down on basketball's mean streets, with plenty of elbows and forearms and shrieking whistles.
Louisville was called for 29 fouls. Kentucky was called for 23. Louisville's Chane Behanan, the Bowling Green freshman who previously had boasted that the Cardinals were the nation's best team, picked up a first-half technical foul and ultimately fouled out.
Not to be left out, Calipari earned a second-half technical which had the hyperventilating UK coach nearly out to mid-court to protest a perceived wrong.
Did you expect this to be a game with so many fouls called?
"Oh, yeah," said Calipari. "I would hope they would be called."
Its roster comparatively short of talent, Louisville no doubt wanted a slower, physical game. But because of that strategy, the intensity of the rivalry and perhaps the officials' desire to keep emotions from escalating into a Xavier- Cincinnati Crosstown Punch-out, the game had little to no rhythm.
There were 119 shots taken in the game. Just 37 were made. Louisville shot 32.3 percent, including 25.7 percent the second half.
Kentucky ended up shooting 29.8 percent.
It was the first time since Dec. 6, 2003, against UCLA in Anaheim, Calif., that a UK basketball team had made less than 30 percent of its shots and walked off the floor a winner.
"You defend and rebound, and you win anyway," Calipari said. "And that's what we want to do."
That's what Kidd-Gilchrist wants to do. The 6-foot-7 New Jersey native compared himself to Tim Tebow the other day when asked about why he started the "Breakfast Club," in which teammates work out and have breakfast together before practice.
And though Jay-Z might have been in the house— he had Kidd-Gilchrist's jersey in his hand — MKG's all-out play makes you think of the DJ Khaled song Rupp played during pre-game, "All I do is win, win, win no matter what."
"And my mom was here," said Kidd-Gilchrist afterward.
It was just a little more than week ago that his mother, Cynthia, was in the hospital with a health scare. She is fine now, said her son, in fact healthy enough to travel to Lexington to be courtside.
"She smiled at me," said her son, admitting he had taken a peek at her during the game, "I had to smile back."
On a day in which he rose above all the others, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist wasn't alone.
Kentucky fans were smiling, too.
Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or email@example.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.