University of Louisville

As game heats up, Cousins stays cool

It wasn't even a minute old. One of the most super-charged renewals of the Kentucky-Louisville basketball Armageddon had seen exactly 45 seconds elapse when things went from chippy to angry.

In a scramble for a loose ball near the U of L basket, Cardinals forward Jared Swopshire went to the floor.

So did DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky's 6-foot-11, 260-pound wide load.

By the time the officials had the scrum under control, Swopshire and his U of L teammate Reginald Delk each had technical fouls.

With both teed-up Cardinals pointing at Cousins and demonstrating for the refs a swinging elbow, the officials went to watch the replay.

After a viewing that showed Cousins appear to swing his forearm at Swopshire, they came back with a "T" for Big Cuz.

On the CBS telecast of the game, analyst Clark Kellogg opined that Cousins could have been ejected for his actions.

He wasn't.

Which may have turned out to be the pivotal moment in Kentucky's fiercely contested, albeit not-especially-well-played, 71-62 victory over its archrival before a Rupp Arena record crowd of 24,479.

On a day when Rick Pitino's well-designed defensive game plan and UK's arctic three-point (2-for-14) and free-throw (21-for-34) shooting made it vulnerable, the Cats survived in large part due to Cousins.

The freshman big man — facing a Pitino defensive specialty, the double-down trap on post players — had 18 points, 18 rebounds, three assists and only two turnovers.

Asked afterward if he thought Cousins should have been ejected, Pitino said he'd have to watch the game tape.

"It would have been nice to have him out of the game," the Louisville coach said. "Been 18 rebounds less."

In post-game interviews, Cousins repeatedly declined to acknowledge throwing a forearm at Swopshire in the scramble.

"I was just going for a loose ball," he said. "I wasn't trying to start any fistfight. I guess it got physical and (Swopshire) couldn't take it."

Kentucky Coach John Calipari said he too did not have a clear enough look at the incident to render an opinion on Cousins' actions — nor on what may or may not have been done by Louisville to provoke it.

But given how intensely the game was being contested at the start, Calipari said "probably, the officials used good judgment" in not tossing anyone.

As the contest unfolded, Calipari said fierce U of L double teams were not the only tactic Cousins had to face.

"I think that Louisville did everything they could to get his goat," Calipari said. "We told him they were going to do that."

Calipari said one of his better players at Memphis, Joey Dorsey, got similar treatment because he, like Cousins, had a reputation for being a hothead.

Cousins said Louisville guard Jerry Smith made a point of bumping and jostling him as the two teams were leaving the floor following the national anthem. During the game, Cousins said he was on the receiving end of a lot of U of L smack talk.

He declined to say what was being said. "It wasn't nice," he said.

Given how much Cousins had thrown at him, Calipari said "he just said, 'It is not bothering me. I am going to play.' He is growing up and really maturing."

What we watched Saturday is how it's going to be going forward. Cousins will get everyone's best shot — their best elbow, their best "accidental" bump, their most provocative bit of trash talk.

When you enter college basketball reputed to have anger management issues, as Big Cuz did, you're going to get tested until you show you can't be provoked.

"Coach Cal is always telling DeMarcus he has to keep his head," said Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson. "We all tell him that. We need him on the court."

Cousins says he knows what is coming. "It's the only way they can stop me," the big man said.

Even with all its clever traps, U of L couldn't stop him.

Said Pitino: "The big kid, he's very tall, very big and very effective."

Kentucky's hopes of a Final Four berth, even the 2010 national title, may ride on whether, when prodded, Cousins can be very cool.

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