LOUISVILLE — It was starting to seem Archie Goodwin was a basketball homebody.
Kentucky's dynamic freshman swingman did not find a trip to Notre Dame to his liking, producing three points in 32 minutes in UK's dispiriting defeat in its first true road test of the season.
Then Saturday, in an electric KFC Yum Center, No. 4 Louisville was on the verge of obliterating John Calipari's latest edition of kiddie Cats. When Russ Smith hit on a driving layup with 14:45 left, U of L led 51-34. A vengeful home crowd heartily sick of a four-game losing streak to UK and Cal was in explosion mode.
To that point, Goodwin had as many turnovers (three) as points. There was zero reason to think the Little Rock, Ark., product was on the verge of leading what was almost a Kentucky rally for the ages.
Yet he was.
In the game's last 13:38, Goodwin scored 19 points. Over the final 7:24, he had 17. Goodwin's charge helped Kentucky cut its 17-point deficit to as little as two (63-61 with 5:32 left). Amazingly, inside the game's final minutes, what had once seemed a certain Louisville blowout was a one-possession contest.
"We just had a grit about us in the second half," Goodwin said.
Grit and Goodwin couldn't quite get UK to the finish line. Louisville (12-1) held on to beat UK (8-4) 80-77 before the largest crowd, 22,810, ever to see a basketball game in the three-year-old Yum Center.
Three veterans of U of L's 2012 Final Four team, Smith (21 points), Chane Behanan (20 points) and Peyton Siva (19 points), helped give Rick Pitino only his third win against Kentucky in his last 10 meetings with the Blue. It was Calipari's first loss as UK coach to U of L.
Yet, in a sense, even in losing to U of L, Cal may have won long-term.
After the UK coach questioned the toughness and fight of his team following back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Baylor, the Cats waded into full-scale hostility Saturday against a veteran Cardinals team that many believe should be the favorite to win the 2013 NCAA title — and Kentucky almost fought its way out of a 17-point second-half hole.
What did we learn about UK? Sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow (17 points, five rebounds, three assists, no turnovers) is good enough for the Cats to aspire to a deep March run. Freshmen big men Nerlens Noel (eight points, eight rebounds) and Willie Cauley-Stein (six points, eight rebounds, three blocks) are going to give lots of teams fits before this season is over.
We also learned that Goodwin, if Calipari can harness his talent without breaking his spirit, can take over a game offensively against a very good defensive team.
The UK guard said draining a 15-foot jumper with 13:37 left in the game ignited him. "A scorer, all he needs to see is the ball go in once," Goodwin said. "That got me going."
By the 9:17 mark of the second half, both U of L starting guards Siva and Smith each had four fouls. From that point, Goodwin seemed able to get to the rim with impunity. His layup with 7:24 left pulled UK within 61-57. He did it again at 6:34 to make it 63-59. Yet another Goodwin goal at the rim pulled Kentucky within 69-64 with 3:47 left.
Goodwin said he was not aware of the foul problems of the Louisville backcourt. "I was just trying to play off instinct, because Coach really wants me to attack," he said.
As U of L fought to hold on late, Goodwin moved his attack to long range. He drained three treys (and was fouled and hit the free throw after the second one) in the final 2:01 to keep Kentucky in the fray.
Of course, he also had a three-pointer blocked by U of L's Gorgui Dieng and committed a turnover in the final minute. But Kentucky would not have been in contention without Goodwin's late-game explosion. Goodwin finished with 22 points, five rebounds and two assists. He also committed five of UK's 15 turnovers.
"Archie is still turning it over and a little bit out of control," Calipari said, "but he still made the plays we needed him to make."
There are no moral victories in Kentucky basketball, certainly not against Louisville. UK's 11-of-23 foul shooting Saturday is one glaring area in need of improvement.
Still, what the Cats showed in The 'Ville was a fortitude that should renew hope that a third straight Final Four run is at least possible.
Asked what Kentucky learned about itself Saturday, Goodwin said "that we can play with anybody."
That, and that Archie Goodwin has some road warrior in him, after all.
Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com