Malik Monk was set up for a fall.
After the Kentucky freshman scorched North Carolina with 47 points in a scintillating 103-100 UK victory Saturday, Monk was the toast of college hoopdom.
It was probably the worst conceivable time to face a Rick Pitino-designed defense.
With Louisville defenders harrying Monk’s every step, the UK guard’s jump shot was as chilly on Wednesday as it was blazing on Saturday. Monk missed his first seven three-point tries, made only six of 17 shots overall and missed a last-gasp trey that could have sent the game to overtime.
As a result, Louisville and Pitino finally got on the board again in our state’s marquee college basketball rivalry.
No. 10 Louisville beat No. 6 Kentucky 73-70 Wednesday night before a roaring KFC Yum Center crowd of 22,783.
For the Cardinals and Pitino, it broke a four-game losing streak against John Calipari’s Wildcats. Pitino improved his record to 2-8 against Calipari-coached UK teams.
“Their Christmas is going to be happier than ours,” Calipari said.
Said Pitino: “Delighted with the victory. It’s been awhile since we had beaten them.”
Reasons for U of L’s rivalry breakthrough were many.
Louisville got a splendid game from former Ballard High School star Quentin Snider. Kentucky’s 2014 Mr. Basketball — who was 0-of-6 on field goal tries in his career against Kentucky before Wednesday night — hit 10 of 19 and scored 22 points.
Looking like the more determined team, the Cardinals beat UK to 50-50 balls and had an 11-4 advantage in second-chance points.
Perhaps most importantly, the Cardinals made things difficult from start to finish for Monk.
One game after the 6-foot-3, 200-pound product was drawing comparisons to Kobe Bryant by going 18-for-28, 8-for-12 three-pointers, against North Carolina, his final line vs. U of L was 6-for-17, 1-for-9.
“It’s OK to be 1-of-9,” Calipari said afterward. “They’re not going in tonight, go rebound and defend.”
Back when his neckties were blue, UK fans got an up-close blueprint of how a Pitino-designed defense can take away an opponent’s top scorer.
In your Encyclopedia of Big Blue Basketball Memories, see Duncan, Tim.
Against Monk, Louisville big men were hedging off on him when he came off screens. Louisville perimeter players were sprinting back to find him in transition when he tried to spot up.
“We shadowed him. We tried to deny him every time he came off a screen,” Pitino said. “We felt like he would try to drive the ball more because guys coming off a 47-point game know you are going to get up in their jock. So we tried to take that away, too.”
Monk helped Louisville contain him by getting in foul trouble in the first half. He played only 10 minutes before halftime after picking up two fouls.
“The issue was, lack of discipline,” Calipari said. “He started the game and he fouled, and there was no reason to make that foul. Second one, might be a foul might not have been, but it wouldn’t have mattered if not for the first one.”
Meanwhile, shots Monk was hitting against North Carolina were not going in Wednesday night.
A corner three with 5:59 left rimmed out. A drive into the lane at 4:22 ended with Louisville stripping the ball and forcing a turnover. A trey at 1:26 rimmed in, popped out.
Still, the sign of a quality player is they still stick big shots on a tough night. Monk drained a trey with 1:04 – his first after seven misses – to pull UK within 71-70.
Monk even got a chance to send the game into overtime, getting an open look at a trey with around 3 seconds left.
That shot would have gone in the North Carolina game. On this night, it didn’t.
What a year it has been in the UK-U of L rivalry. Kentucky snapped a five-game losing streak vs. U of L to win in football. Louisville snapped a five-game skid with an overtime victory over UK in women’s basketball.
Now Pitino and his team broke through in the sport that most animates our state.
This won’t make Kentucky fans feel any better, but UK, if it learns the right lessons, will benefit from this loss.
“These guys are 18, 19 years old,” Calipari said. “Stuff happens. It’s December 21st. We start four freshmen and a sophomore. We are not ready to go on an opponent’s home court that is Top 10 and win, we’re just not.”