LOUISVILLE — This is life as the hunted, not the hunter.
A year ago, Kentucky women's basketball spent an enchanted winter hanging "L's" on teams that have had UK's number. None of those victories was more emphatic than the 101-67 smackdown the Cats put on then-defending NCAA runner-up Louisville in Memorial Coliseum to end a five-game losing streak to the Cards.
That day, UK's frenetic, full-court pressure defense harried an injury-ravaged U of L into a stunning 38 turnovers.
That day, the Cats flat ran the Cards out of the gym.
On Sunday, in the first UK-U of L basketball game ever played in the KFC Yum Center, the Cardinals delivered a stinging rebuttal. Outworking and outplaying the No. 8 Cats, U of L hung a 78-52 pasting on Kentucky before 22,152 fans.
"Last year, they didn't let up at all," Louisville guard Becky Burke said. "This year, we didn't either."
For Matthew Mitchell and Co., this was more than just the first loss of the season; and more, even, than a defeat in our state's marquee rivalry.
This was a graphic example of life on the other side of the payback line. Teams that Kentucky vanquished a year ago are going to come back at the Cats with vengeance this season.
On Sunday, UK did not come close to matching the passion with which U of L played.
"Our style of play is all based on being tenacious and really working hard," said Mitchell. "We picked a bad day not to play hard defensively."
The Louisville team that was helpless against the Kentucky press a season ago repeatedly beat the Cats full-court, man-to-man by throwing over the top Sunday.
This year, it was actually UK that turned the ball over more often, 22 turnovers to 21. A year ago, Kentucky scored 39 points off turnovers against Louisville. This year, the Cards won that battle (25-18).
Said Mitchell: "U of L looked like it was much more motivated to win, and that bothers me. I have to take some responsibility for that."
It certainly didn't hurt Louisville that its two primary outside shooters were white-hot. Impressive freshman point guard Shoni Schimmel put on a show, draining six of nine three-pointers on the way to a game-high 26 points. Burke almost matched her, hitting six of 12 treys and scoring 21 points.
"The three-point line was one of the major points of emphasis for us," Mitchell said of the UK defensive game plan. "We felt like if they got clean, open looks at threes, it was going to be difficult for us to win today. Well, that happened in a variety of ways, all hustle related."
(A brief aside for an architectural review: Sunday was my first visit to the KFC Yum Center. Every thing you've heard about how nice it is?
Increase it. The new downtown arena is swanky. As UK fans see the Yum in person, Rupp Arena is going to look increasingly old and pedestrian.)
Sunday was a game in which the absence of incumbent Kentucky point guard Amber Smith, sidelined after tearing an ACL, was starkly evident. UK needed its senior leader for direction, but more than that, it needed Smith's grit when U of L figuratively hit the Cats in the mouth.
Louisville Coach Jeff Walz was quick to note that, during his team's meltdown in Lexington last season, it was playing without six injured players and with no true point guard who was a scholarship player.
"When we lost six players to injury and Kentucky continued to press us, of course we were going to turn the ball over," he said. "Now, when we have a healthy squad, we showed we can play."
And then some.
As for UK, we learned some things. Utilizing a matchup zone, Walz exposed some Kentucky weaknesses in its half-court offense. The Cardinals collapsed on Kentucky star Victoria Dunlap (17 points, 23 rebounds), shaded standout wing A'dia Mathies (10 points) and ran at UK shooting specialist Keyla Snowden (1-of-12 from the field) to great effect.
Otherwise, Louisville seemed willing to let the freshman-heavy remainder of the Kentucky roster try to beat it. Though Maegan Conwright had some good moments (13 points), the other frosh didn't get much done.
None of which means Kentucky isn't a good team capable of backing up last year's breakthrough season.
It does mean that UK, now the hunted, better bring the fire it showed last season as the hunter.