Kentucky won the game.
Louisville won the game.
Kentucky has beaten Louisville four in a row and eight of nine in men’s hoops going into Wednesday night’s annual Armageddon.
Yet can Rick Pitino and Louisville take advantage of what seems to be a karmic predisposition toward streak-breaking in this year’s UK-U of L head-to-head and finally win another game off John Calipari and the Cats?
Back in the 1990s, a youthful Ricky P. dominated the UK vs U of L series, going 6-2 as Kentucky coach against Louisville.
As U of L’s coach, that has to make Pitino’s 5-12 overall mark vs. UK — 1-8 against Calipari — even more galling.
There is much about this year’s edition of Cats vs. Cards in the KFC Yum Center that should favor Louisville.
This will be the first true road game for Calipari’s freshmen-reliant Wildcats.
In Cal’s previous seven seasons as Kentucky head coach, UK has lost its first true road game five times — though one of the two wins came two years ago in the Yum Center, 58-50.
UK enters this year’s rivalry grudgefest off a scintillating 103-100 victory over North Carolina on Saturday in Las Vegas. The UK victory was fueled by a tour de force from freshman guard Malik Monk, whose 47 points included the game-deciding three-pointer.
Historically, UK players who have had games such as Monk’s have tended to “bounce” — a horse racing term meaning to follow a breakthrough race with a dull run.
After his 54 point game at Tennessee in 2009, Jodie Meeks had 22 in his next contest at Georgia. Following Dan Issel’s 53-point game vs. Mississippi in 1970, he came back with only 17 points vs. Mississippi State.
Only Issel, who followed up a 51-point game at LSU in 1970 with a 47-point showing at Alabama, has ever had back-to-back performances in a Kentucky uniform like the one Monk put on vs. North Carolina.
Monk better buckle up.
Pitino’s teams have always been adept at “taking away” an opponent’s primary scoring threat. Assuming Louisville will have a defensive plan designed to puncture the comfort level of Monk and his stellar freshman backcourt mate De’Aaron Fox, does Kentucky have enough balance to overcome?
Yet even if a stout Louisville defense forces UK into a half-court grinder, it is not at all apparent the Cardinals can score enough to take advantage.
In the nine Pitino vs. Calipari renewals of Cards-Cats, Louisville’s point totals have been: 62, 63, 62, 61, 80, 66, 69, 50 and 73.
So far, the 2016-17 Wildcats have not shown the lock-down defensive mentality that has been typical of Calipari-era teams. Yet even if Louisville gets open looks, there’s reason to wonder if the Cards can knock enough down to win.
Whatever he will say publicly, Pitino’s difficulty beating Calipari and Kentucky has to eat at him.
That might explain his behavior after last season’s two-point loss in Rupp Arena, when the U of L coach exited the court after appearing to give heckling UK fans a one-digit salute that was not “We’re number one.”