Mark Story: Big win over Louisville makes Calipari's job easier

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 28, 2013 

  • Kentucky 73, Louisville 66

  • Kentucky leads series vs. Louisville 31-15

    Date Winner Score Location

    Feb 15, 1913 Kentucky 34-10 Lexington

    Feb. 7, 1914 Kentucky 22-17 Lexington

    Mar. 3, 1914 Kentucky 26-13 Louisville

    Jan. 23, 1915 Kentucky 18-14 Lexington

    Feb. 27, 1915 Louisville 26-15 Louisville

    Feb. 12, 1916 Louisville 28-22 Lexington

    Feb. 22, 1916 Kentucky 32-24 Louisville

    Jan. 17, 1922 Kentucky 38-14 Louisville

    Jan. 21, 1922 Kentucky 29-22 Lexington

    Mar. 27, 1948 Kentucky 91-57 New York (Olympic Trials)

    Mar. 20, 1951 Kentucky 79-68Raleigh, N.C. (NCAA first round)

    Mar. 13, 1959 Louisville 76-61Evanston, Ill. (NCAA first round)

    Mar. 26, 1983 Louisville80-68 (OT)Knoxville (NCAA Elite Eight)

    Nov. 26, 1983 Kentucky 65-44 Lexington

    Mar. 22, 1984 Kentucky 72-67 Lexington (NCAA Sweet 16)

    Dec. 15, 1984 Louisville 71-64 Louisville

    Dec. 28, 1985 Kentucky 69-64 Lexington

    Dec. 27, 1986 Kentucky 85-51 Louisville

    Dec. 12, 1987 Kentucky 76-75 Lexington

    Dec. 31, 1988 Louisville 97-75 Louisville

    Dec. 30, 1989 Louisville 86-79 Lexington

    Dec. 29, 1990 Kentucky 93-85 Louisville

    Dec. 28, 1991 Kentucky103-89Lexington

    Dec. 12, 1992 Kentucky 88-68 Louisville

    Nov. 27, 1993 Kentucky 78-70 Lexington

    Jan. 1, 1995 Louisville 88-86 Louisville

    Dec. 23, 1995 Kentucky 89-66 Lexington

    Dec. 31, 1996 Kentucky 74-54 Louisville

    Dec. 27, 1997 Louisville 79-76 Lexington

    Dec. 26, 1998 Louisville 83-74 Louisville

    Dec. 18, 1999 Kentucky 76-46 Lexington

    Jan. 2, 2001 Kentucky 64-62 Louisville

    Dec. 29, 2001 Kentucky 82-62 Lexington

    Dec. 28, 2002 Louisville 81-63 Louisville

    Dec. 27, 2003 Louisville 65-56 Lexington

    Dec. 18, 2004 Kentucky 60-58 Louisville

    Dec. 17, 2005 Kentucky 73-61 Lexington

    Dec. 16, 2006 Kentucky 61-49 Louisville

    Jan. 5, 2008 Louisville 89-75 Lexington

    Jan. 4, 2009 Louisville 74-71 Louisville

    Jan. 2, 2010 Kentucky 71-62 Lexington

    Dec. 31, 2010 Kentucky 78-63 Louisville

    Dec. 31, 2011 Kentucky 69-62 Lexington

    Mar. 31, 2012 Kentucky 69-61New Orleans (NCAA Final Four)

    Dec. 29, 2012 Louisville 80-77 Louisville

    Dec. 28, 2013 Kentucky 73-66Lexington

Here's the thing about being head men's basketball coach at the University of Kentucky.

When things are going well, it is the greatest job in the world. But when things veer off the tracks, when a coach's tactics, recruiting, philosophical approach — whatever it is — start being questioned, there are few tougher jobs in big-time American team sports.

Which is why our state's annual hoops Armageddon, Louisville in Rupp Arena visiting Kentucky on Saturday, was unusually important for UK Coach John Calipari.

For the first three years in which Cal patrolled the UK sideline, he had the best job in the world. Three Elite Eights, two Final Fours and an NCAA championship buy a coach a lot of leeway.

However, after last season's 21-12 collapse into the NIT, followed by three straight losses to ranked teams this year with a squad that began 2013-14 ranked No. 1 in the nation, there were questions beginning to bubble to the surface about Calipari's full-armed embrace of the one-and-done phenomenon.

Had No. 6 Louisville with its veteran roster rolled into Rupp and handed UK yet another big-game defeat, it would have made Calipari's record against ranked teams over the past two seasons 2-7.

After Calipari had seemed to have won the debate over whether a program so reliant on new players every year could consistently succeed, questions about whether that approach is the best way to build a program would have roared back to life if Rick Pitino had beaten Calipari on Saturday.

Which, of course, he did not.

Producing a much-needed signature victory in spite of playing most of the second half without cramping freshman star Julius Randle, No. 18 Kentucky (10-3) beat U of L (11-2) 73-66 before a rocking Rupp crowd of 24,396.

Kentucky's victory was won in the most "Calipari way" imaginable.

UK freshmen accounted for 85.2 percent (23) of the Cats' 27 field goals. Kentucky first-year players produced 56.8 percent (25) of UK's 44 rebounds. Wildcats frosh accounted for 87.7 percent (64) of the Big Blue's 73 points.

Randle was stellar in half one, producing 17 points and three rebounds. After his cramps benched him, fellow freshmen James Young (18 points, 10 rebounds), Andrew Harrison (18 points) and Aaron Harrison (10 points) would not let the Cats lose.

"I just didn't want to lose to Louisville," Young said. "And I didn't want to lose at home."

Afterward, Calipari tried to throw cold water on the pre-game narrative that this was a showdown between his new-school way of team development and Pitino's old-school way.

"All this stuff about doing it this way, doing it another way ... please stop," he lectured the media. "The 'Cal Way,' there's no 'Cal Way.' There's no 'Cal Ball.' (Players who are) young, old, ugly, pretty. It doesn't matter.

"This is about players as a team. This team is becoming a good team. We haven't been all year. Now, we're starting (to be)."

It's hard to imagine how Saturday's game could have gone any better for Calipari.

Unlike what happened down the stretch in UK losses to ranked foes Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina, Kentucky's freshman-heavy roster showed it could persevere through adversity against a top foe vs. Louisville.

After months of speculation that the Harrison twins would be frayed and fried by full-court pressure from U of L's smaller, quicker backcourt, the Kentucky guards came through big. UK actually committed fewer turnovers (11) than did Louisville (13).

"I thought the Harrisons were very much under control," Pitino said. "They handled pressure and didn't force things. They showed much more maturity than everybody was saying."

Forced to play without his star, Randle, with the game on the line, Calipari may have found his team.

"It does give us confidence to be in that situation without (Randle) and come through," Andrew Harrison said.

In the big picture, the victory also did more for Calipari than give him a 5-1 record against Louisville as UK head coach and a 10-9 mark against Pitino in the college part of their long, complex coaching rivalry.

What the UK victory did is forestall any kind of substantial debate within the Kentucky fan base over the "Calipari approach" with the one-and-dones and the yearly roster churn until, well, we see how the youth-laden Cats fare in 2014's March Madness.

Best of all for the UK coach, Calipari will wake up Sunday and his job will still be pretty darn great.


Kentucky 73, Louisville 66

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230.Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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