Date story published: Sunday, December 24, 1995
Tim Couch commits. Kentucky beats Louisville 89-66.
How can it not be a holly, jolly Cat Christmas this year?
Kentucky hit a delicious daily double two days before Christmas. Couch, the nation's No. 1 high school quarterback prospect, answered the call for UK's long-suffering football team at an early afternoon news conference.
Then UK's seldom-suffering basketball team avenged one of its most painful recent disappointments: last season's loss at hated Louisville.
"It was payback," said guard Tony Delk, who solidified his reputation for coming up big in big games. He hurt Louisville with 30 points, one less than his career-high 31 at Arkansas last Super Bowl Sunday.
"I was telling the guys before the game, 'This game means a lot. Not only to Lexington. But to us.' "
Rebounding sparked Kentucky's victory. The Cats enjoyed a dominating 44-24 advantage against an undersized and undermanned Louisville team. A record Rupp Arena crowd of 24,340 watched U of L get outrebounded for the seventh time in 11 games and the fifth time by a margin of 11 or more.
"The strategy was to space the floor and create offensive rebounding situations because we thought we could hurt them on the glass," UK Coach Rick Pitino said.
Antoine Walker grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds, his second double-digit board game in the last three.
The rebounding bonanza came against a team missing three front-line contributors: Jason Osborne (academics), Alex Sanders (academics) and Eric Johnson (injury).
"I was pleased with how well our kids played," U of L Coach Denny Crum said. "Kentucky just dominated the offensive board, and that was the big difference in the game."
Kentucky, now 7-1 and looking to improve its No. 4 ranking, needed rebounding to compensate for dreadful shooting early in the game. The Cats made only two of their first 22 shots. None of the first 11 -- yes, 11 -- three-point attempts went in.
But UK's pressure defense and offensive rebounding minimized the damage. The Cats had only three baskets -- all rebound put-backs -- in the first 9 1/2 minutes. It was the polar opposite of Tuesday's point-fest against Marshall when UK had 43 points at that stage. Yet Louisville led only 10-4.
"Everybody was cold," said Derek Anderson, who never got his offense going in 13 mostly ineffective minutes. "Me and Tony (Delk) usually hit those shots. If we did, this game would have been over a long time ago."
Pitino blamed impatience for the slow offensive start. "We were taking jump shots and trying to beat them with threes," he said.
But the UK coach had no complaint with his team's defense, which he judged "spectacular most of the game."
The Cats contained their nemesis of last season. Louisville center Samaki Walker, who recorded the school's only triple-double last time he faced UK, got a relatively harmless 17 points, eight rebounds and four blocks.
Pitino saluted much-improved low-post defense and cited Massachusetts center Marcus Camby as an example. Camby equaled his career high with 32 points in the Minutemen's victory over UK a month ago.
"We didn't get there (to double-down on the post) quick enough and get out of it quick enough," Pitino said of the UMass game. "Our double downs were great. The key was the way we got out of the double downs (to also cover the perimeter)."
Louisville's 4-for-18 three-point shooting reflected UK's defense on the perimeter. So did Walker's six frustration-fueled turnovers.
Asked why Kentucky contained U of L's center, Delk said, "We watched so much tape. And we worked for hours on trapping down on whoever the 'five' (center) is."
Kentucky took charge with a 14-4 run late in the first half after a UK 20- second timeout with 3:30 left. Pitino said he called time to make a defensive adjustment. U of L got only a final-second three-pointer from DeJuan Wheat, his only basket of the half.
Delk scored UK's final 12 points of the half. His three-pointer with three minutes left started the run. It marked his first basket and the Cats' first trey after 15 misses.
Delk scored five more points on UK's next possession. An intentional foul by Beau Zach Smith netted two free throws. Then Delk hit a three-pointer on the ensuing inbounds play. Suddenly, a 22-20 Cat lead ballooned to 32-20.
Louisville (7-4) did not quit. Kentucky stretched its lead to 60-41 on yet another put-back, this time by Walker. The Cards closed to within 61-54 with 7:10 left when Wheat hit a NBA-sized three-pointer.
Louisville got no closer. Antoine Walker and Walter McCarty posted up for baskets and UK steadily pulled away. The final margin represented UK's largest lead.
"I've got to give it to them," Samaki Walker said. "They were the better team today."