UK Men's Basketball

No energy shortage as Kentucky outlasts Louisville

John Calipari after win over Louisville

Kentucky coach John Calipari talks to media after his team's 75-73 win over Louisville.
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Kentucky coach John Calipari talks to media after his team's 75-73 win over Louisville.

’Twas the day after Christmas, and Kentucky continued to resemble that tantalizing what-could-it-be mystery package under the tree.

UK fans might not know what they’re getting until each game is unwrapped. But a 75-73 victory over Louisville Saturday was a delightful surprise and surely made for happy holidays.

Jamal Murray, the hero in defeat Saturday against Ohio State, shot mostly blanks and committed seven turnovers.

But to the rescue rode — surprise — Dominique Hawkins. He made his second, third and fourth three-pointers of the season and almost doubled his previous career high of seven points by scoring 13.

The former Kentucky Mr. Basketball had only five treys all of last season, and was one-of-nine from beyond the arc this season.

Alex Poythress went from famine to feast in a week. He rebounded from a negligible six-point, seven-rebound effort in last weekend’s loss to Ohio State by punishing Louisville: 14 points, six rebounds, three blocks.

Despite the individual ebb and flow, Calipari saw something he hopes will be re-gifted throughout the rest of the season. The kind of effort and determination that subdued Louisville, he said, makes irrelevant the statistical variances.

He was the difference.

Louisville assistant Ralph Willard on UK’s Tyler Ulis

“This is who we have to be and how we have to play,” Calipari said. “That kind of energy, that kind of aggressiveness, that kind of attack, that kind of (uninhibited) offense.”

By the latter, Calipari meant a more devil-may-care attitude shooting threes. Incidentally, the Cats made a season-high 11 three-pointers. Going into the game, UK ranked No. 328 in three-pointers (4.9 per game) and No. 312 in three-point shooting accuracy (29.7 percent).

One North Star constant was Chicagoan Tyler Ulis. He equaled a career-high with 21 points, and had an eight-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio. “He was the difference,” said U of L assistant Ralph Willard, who substituted for Coach Rick Pitino in the postgame media duties. “… He controlled it. He gave a lot of other people shots. And he made a lot of tough shots. He is a difficult guard to speed up and play against.”

But Ulis was not immune to the ups and downs that dot this UK season. He equaled a career-high of four three-pointers after having made only six of 25 shots from beyond the arc in the four most recent games.

Ulis, too, noticed the uptick in Kentucky’s energy. When asked to compare the effort against Louisville to the effort against Ohio State, he said, “There’s no comparison. Against Ohio State, we didn’t come out ready to play.”

Ulis agreed with a reporter’s suggestion that Louisville’s full-court style helped Kentucky achieve Calipari’s aim to “loosen up” offensively. “Because we’re guard-oriented, right now,” Ulis said.

UK’s first surprise this day came before the game. Freshman Isaiah Briscoe, arguably the most competitive Cat, came up lame in warm-ups. He did not play. Gone was the player Calipari had called the nation’s best defender and surely UK’s best Dribble-Driver.

Despite the absence of Briscoe, UK fixed its problem with slow starts by zipping to a 13-4 lead inside the first six minutes. Louisville helped missing nine of its first 11 shots.

Kentucky signaled immediately that it came to scrap. UK’s first six points came off second-chance opportunities, this against a U of L team ranked No. 2 nationally in rebound margin.

Fortunes changed throughout the game. With U of L scoring on six straight trips downcourt, Kentucky trailed 23-19 mid-way through the first half.

A frenetic final 2:35 gave Kentucky a 44-36 halftime lead. Hawkins got UK’s 14-2 run in that span started with a three-pointer. That was the second of three treys this day from a player who had previously made only eight of 46 (17.6-percent accuracy) in his college career.

Another unlikely three — by Derek Willis, his fourth since Nov. 14 — helped the cause.

Kentucky built a 16-point lead early in the second half. The Cats scored the first eight points after halftime to lead 52-36 with 17:50 left.

Poythress accounted for six of the points, including a dunk set up by Ulis’ pass that established the 16-point bulge. He also assisted on a Marcus Lee layup to open the half.

“It’s the kind of game veterans step up,” said Poythress, a relative greybeard as UK’s lone senior. “… Some of the freshmen might not know how big a game it is or how hard you’ve got to play or how competitive it is.”

A runaway did not ensue. Kentucky did not trail in the final 22:04. But Louisville did not go away.

The Cardinals had the game’s final possession. U of L went to Damion Lee, who led all scorers with 27 points. But Poythress alertly switched when Ulis got caught on a screen and forced Lee to take a desperation three that did not get to the rim.

A hustle play seemed a fitting punctuation. Maybe the freshman-oriented Cats are learning that talent alone is not enough.

In agreeing that this lesson had to be learned, Ulis said, “There are so many guys on our team who can do a lot of great things. We just had to get comfortable with each other.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

No. 12 KENTUCKY 75,

No. 16 LOUISVILLE 73

LOUISVILLE

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Spalding

23

1-4

1-2

5

0

1

3

Onuaku

26

4-7

1-3

10

2

2

9

Lee

40

8-20

9-10

1

0

2

27

Snider

28

0-5

0-0

2

1

3

0

Lewis

29

6-10

1-1

2

1

4

15

Stockman

6

1-3

0-0

5

1

3

2

Johnson

17

3-6

0-2

3

0

2

6

Mahmoud

8

0-0

1-2

2

0

2

1

Adel

2

1-1

0-0

0

0

0

2

Mitchell

21

3-7

2-2

5

3

2

8

Totals

200

27-63

15-22

39

8

21

73

Percentages: FG .429, FT .682. Three-Point goals: 4-14, .286 (Lewis 2-3, Lee 2-7, Snider 0-1, Mitchell 0-3). Team rebounds: 4. Blocked shots: 1 (Spalding). Turnovers: 15 (Spalding 3, Onuaku 3, Lewis 3, Lee 2, Mitchell, Stockman, Johnson). Steals: 5 (Lewis 2, Snider, Mahmoud, Lee). Technical fouls: Bench.

KENTUCKY

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Lee

30

4-5

0-0

7

0

4

8

Poythress

34

5-7

4-7

6

1

1

14

Ulis

39

7-12

3-4

1

8

2

21

Matthews

10

1-3

0-0

2

0

4

2

Murray

34

3-14

3-6

6

2

3

12

Labissiere

10

0-3

2-2

3

0

2

2

Mulder

1

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

0

Hawkins

26

3-4

4-6

1

1

3

13

Willis

16

1-4

0-0

2

0

0

3

Totals

200

24-52

16-25

29

12

19

75

Percentages: FG .462, FT .640. Three-point goals: 11-23, .478 (Ulis 4-7, Hawkins 3-4, Murray 3-8, Willis 1-3, Poythress 0-1). Team rebounds: 1. Blocked shots: 6 (Poythress 3, Ulis, Murray, Lee). Turnovers: 15 (Murray 7, Willis 2, Ulis, Lee, Poythress, Hawkins). Steals: 4 (Poythress, Labissiere, Ulis, Lee). Technical fouls: Bench.

Louisville

36

37

73

Kentucky

44

31

75

A—24,412. Officials—Doug Shows, Pat Adams, Mike Roberts.

Next game

Mississippi at Kentucky

7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 2 (SEC Network)

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