About this time last year, Quentin Snider was inconsolable.
U of L’s starting point guard turned in maybe the worst game of his college career on a stage he had grown up dreaming to play on.
That day, the day after Christmas, Snider didn’t score a point and dished out just one assist in 28 minutes on the Rupp Arena floor. His hometown Cardinals, the team he always wanted to play for, lost to archrival Kentucky by two points.
On the other side of that game was Tyler Ulis, the Wildcats’ gritty little point guard who always seemed to come up big at the right time. Ulis had 21 points and eight assists that day. The year before, as a freshman, he came off the bench to lead the Cats past the Cards in crunch time, playing some of the second half with blood trickling down his face, an image that has become iconic among UK fans.
Snider’s father, Scott, said that after last season’s game, his son — home for Christmas break — went into his room and didn’t come out for two days.
While he was down, Snider got a little pick-me-up from an old friend.
“Be more aggressive,” the text message read. It was from Ulis.
Two years after Ulis’ face was bloodied at the Yum Center, it was Snider who delivered the haymakers for the Cardinals.
His stat line Wednesday night: A career-high 22 points to go along with six rebounds, five assists and two steals in 37 minutes. Most importantly, for him, was the final score: Louisville 73, Kentucky 70.
“I was waiting for this game,” Snider said with a smile.
Snider’s dad said his son had taken last season’s loss to the Wildcats harder than any defeat before it, including Ballard’s last-second loss to Madison Central in the state championship game at Rupp Arena in 2013.
“I took it way harder,” Snider confirmed. “You play (for) your city and you play that bad, it’s a really big thing. Playing that bad, there were nights where I couldn’t sleep.”
On Wednesday night at the Yum Center, he did it all for the Cards.
Snider scored seven points in the first four minutes of the game.
“I’m feeling it right now,” he said of his thoughts after those first three baskets.
With a minute to go in the first half, UK had built a 40-35 lead. Snider made two baskets 40 seconds apart to cut the deficit to one point going into halftime.
He hit a three-pointer early in the second half to put the Cards up 47-43. He came around a screen and nailed a jumper shortly after that to give U of L a five-point lead.
Toward the end, he made two shots in a matter of a minute that will likely stick with Louisville fans just as Ulis’ performances in this rivalry have stuck with UK’s.
On the first one, with U of L up 65-62 and just under three minutes left, Snider tried everything to shake UK freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox and finally threw up a leaning jumper. It went in.
“He had a big game today,” Fox said. “He hit shots. He controlled the team. He basically controlled the pace of the whole game, and he made big plays.”
A minute later, Snider had UK big man Bam Adebayo defending him. It was an unfair matchup for the Wildcats’ 6-foot-10 freshman, and Snider took advantage.
He backed up a little, hit Adebayo with a crossover and, when the UK center nearly fell to the court, Snider blew by him with a left-handed layup as the Cards’ bench went crazy.
“I was just trying to dance with him,” Snider said. “I was trying to move his feet. So once I saw him fall, I went straight into attack mode.
“I had a grin on my face, and I usually don’t make any facial expressions.”
That basket put Louisville up 69-63 with 1:44 left. UK would threaten to tie it at the end, but this night belonged to Snider, and the Cats’ last-minute rally fell short.
After the game, in the hallway outside the U of L locker room, Scott Snider, who has watched his son play hundreds of games, maybe thousands, called it one of the best.
“It’s probably one of his top five games,” he said. “He’s had some good ones.”
That seemed like an understatement. Surely the circumstances — a career-high scoring performance against his school’s hated rival in his family’s hometown — made this one the best.
“I haven’t really soaked it all in yet,” the elder Snider said.
Quentin didn’t need a night to sleep on this one. Wearing a Santa hat in the locker room and declaring that this Christmas would be a lot merrier than the last one, Louisville’s point guard declared Wednesday night’s performance to be his greatest.
“Oh, this is No. 1,” he said. “Most definitely No. 1. This is the best game ever.”