Kentucky’s 90-61 victory over Louisville on Friday showed why John Calipari has been urging his players to concentrate on unrelenting defense and purposeful drives on offense.
Defense and drives not only smothered Louisville, but suggested this was the formula for a happy Blue year, er, new year.
The Cats imposed their will, something Calipari found lacking in the loss to UCLA the previous weekend.
Quade Green suggested a link to the UCLA game with Louisville suffering a basketball aftershock.
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“It impacted everybody,” Green said of the 83-75 loss to the Bruins. “Even Coach Cal. Coach Cal was mad. We were mad. We had to take it out on Louisville today.”
Kentucky (10-2) enjoyed its most lopsided victory in the rivalry since a 76-46 thumping of Louisville on Dec. 18, 1999.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the way with a career-high 24 points.
But this was as complete and thorough a victory as Kentucky has yet achieved.
When asked if this Kentucky team resembled the Kentucky team he watched against UCLA, Louisville interim coach David Padgett said, “Oh, I think the final score speaks for itself.”
Calipari, who seldom strays from the coaching mode of wanting more, more, more, came close to sounding satisfied. Perhaps he wanted to help keep critics of Padgett at bay.
“That’s as good as we play …,” Calipari said. “And mainly because we finally competed and battled for an entire game.”
Despite making only 40.6 percent of its shots in the first half, Kentucky led 41-27 at intermission. UK’s first halftime lead since Monmouth was the result of the foundational pieces of a Calipari team: defense and drives.
Louisville made only one of 11 three-point shots, which was in sharp contest to the 12-for-30 shooting that enabled UCLA to beat Kentucky last weekend. This prompted Calipari to say of the Bruins’ three-pointers, “They were like we didn’t guard them.”
Overall, Louisville made only 34.8 percent of its shots, the second-worst percentage by a UK opponent this season (East Tennessee State made 32.4 percent of its shots). The Cardinals made only three three-point shots, which was the fewest by a UK opponent this season. It wasn’t for lack of trying. U of L took 25 shots from beyond the arc.
Meanwhile, Kentucky did not settle for jump shots. The Cats took only 13 three-point shots, and made six.
Instead, UK drove repeatedly to the basket. One result was more than three times as many free throw attempts (18 to five) in the first half and more than double for the game (30-13).
“That was our game plan for today because they were going to stop playing defense after you put the ball by them …,” Green said of the many drives. “Every time we settle (for jump shots), I think we fall under the water a little bit.”
Kentucky took the lead for good on two PJ Washington free throws with 6:48 left in the first half. That began a 12-0 run.
With Louisville scoring only one basket in the final 7:48 of the first half, Kentucky assumed full control.
Green led Kentucky to further domination early in the second half. Playing without the protective glasses for the first time since injuring an eye against Monmouth, he had a hand in UK’s first nine points. He scored seven and fed Washington for a dunk.
Gilgeous-Alexander took it from there. He scored 13 of UK’s next 17 points. His back-to-back steals and drives in transition expanded the lead to 67-38 with barely 10 minutes left.
Another aspect of the UCLA game came to mind. Calipari had suggested UK lost, in part, because the players forgot the competitive zeal necessary to win against a team from a Power Five conference.
So Calipari spoke cautiously after the wipeout of Louisville. He again tied effort to NBA aspirations.
“We haven’t done anything yet …,” he said. “If you want to do this for a living, you’d better fight. Or someone else is going to fight, and you’re going to be watching TV. You’d better fight for what you want.”
Georgia at No. 16 Kentucky
6 p.m. Sunday (ESPN)