The pieces were in place for Louisville to pull off the upset on Saturday.
The Cardinals kept Kentucky's sensational freshman guard, John Wall, in check for most of the game. They outrebounded the bigger and more athletic Wildcats 39-38. And UK, which entered the game shooting 42 percent from three-point range, went 2-for-14 from beyond the arc.
But it still wasn't enough. Although the Cardinals grabbed a one-point lead midway through the second half, the Wildcats quickly recovered and pulled away for a 71-62 victory.
"It was a good, hard fought game," Louisville Coach Rick Pitino said. "We had our chances to win it, but we didn't come away with it."
The Louisville blueprint would have been perfect if not for an atrocious start on the offensive end.
"We kind of got in a funk, but we had to ride it out," said Terrence Jennings, Louisville's sophomore center.
The Cardinals missed 18 of their first 19 shots and trailed 17-5 at the television timeout with 7:30 to play. They had 12 first-half turnovers.
"We had trouble scoring because of their defense," Louisville senior guard Edgar Sosa said.
But, Sosa noted, the Wildcats couldn't quite put the Cards away because "we weren't letting them score on the other half, either."
Louisville's breakthrough came in the final minute of the first half. After a Patrick Patterson baseline jumper put UK ahead 27-14 with 29 seconds left, Reginald Delk was fouled by Darnell Dodson on a hard drive to the basket at the seven-second mark.
Delk hit both free throws, and Wall threw away the inbounds pass to Preston Knowles. Eric Bledsoe then fouled him on a three-point attempt, and Knowles knocked down all three free throws to pull Louisville within 27-19 going into halftime.
"It was huge," Sosa said. "We needed every basket we could get, even if it was from the free-throw line."
Pitino said he felt pretty confident going into the locker room.
"That type of offense wasn't good, but being down only eight points was really helping us because the crowd wasn't as big a factor as it could have been," Pitino said. "They weren't getting much in transition and we were playing good defense."
Louisville carried that momentum into the second half and took the lead at 42-41 on two Jennings free throws with 9:51 to play.
"In the second half we did a good job of understanding what they were doing on the defensive end," Sosa said. "That helped us come back and take the lead."
But Wall responded for the Wildcats with a driving layup, a pull-up jumper, and two free throws to reclaim a 47-42 lead. His dish to Patterson set up a three-point play that stretched UK's advantage to 55-45 with 5:35 to play. Louisville would get no closer than seven the rest of the way.
"We just couldn't get over that hump at the end of the game and they made some big shots," Jennings said.
Louisville (10-4) resumes Big East play Wednesday at Providence, and one gets the impression that Pitino feels a bit better about his team after its performance in Rupp.
"We're going to get a lot better and we're going to really improve," Pitino said. "We've had two tough road games, (UNLV) and this one, and we showed a lot of heart and character. We thought we could have the won the game, but they made the big plays and deserved to win."