John Clay

Another great game, but Kentucky shows it’s not quite ready for the road

Come on now, you’ve got to stop this.

Our hearts can only take so much.

After the barnburner that was Kentucky’s loss against UCLA at Rupp Arena and the down-to-the-wire thriller that was Kentucky’s win over North Carolina out in Las Vegas, surely the odds were against Kentucky and Louisville producing another classic in this 2016-17 college basketball season.

But that’s exactly what we got Wednesday night at the Yum Center with Rick Pitino’s No. 10 Cardinals flipping the recent script and pulling out a 73-70 thriller over John Calipari’s sixth-ranked Cats.

Louisville native and Cards guard Quentin Snider had the game of his life, scoring a career-high 22 points. The home team came up with some key rebounds down the stretch, including a Jaylen Johnson follow with 16 seconds left as Pitino improved his record to 2-8 against UK since Calipari arrived in Lexington.

“They had been dominating us,” Pitino said afterward. “It’s good to get a win.”

Meanwhile, it was the first true road game of the season for Kentucky, and it looked like the first road true road game of the season for the Cats.

Malik Monk, who couldn’t miss in Vegas, scoring 47 points in Vegas against the Tar Heels, couldn’t make a basket against the ’Ville. What happened in Vegas stays in Vegas. The freshman sat out the final 8:52 of the first half after picking up his second foul. He missed his first seven three-pointers before finally draining a triple to bring UK to within 71-70 with 10 seconds remaining. It wasn’t enough, however.

One reason why: Kentucky made just 19 of 29 free throws on the night, including just six of its final 13. Freshman center Bam Adebayo made just one of his six attempts. Derek Willis missed one of two from the line with 41 seconds remaining and UK down 69-66.

“Right now on Dec. 21st we’re not good enough to come in here and beat a Top 10 team on the road,” said Calipari. “We’re just not.”

The UK coach blamed a lack of discipline for his team’s defeat. He said players came out of huddles and broke off plays, or failed to follow instructions. He cited silly fouls and his team’s reluctance to drive the ball when drives were there for the taking.

At the other end, Louisville drove the basketball whenever possible. Calipari had complained earlier that his team was having trouble containing straight-line drives, and that problem resurfaced against UK’s archrivals.

“We had been very aggressive on defense,” said Pitino. “Tonight I thought we were very aggressive offensively.”

Louisville’s defense shouldn’t be overlooked. After all, the Cardinals came into the game as the nation’s most efficient defense, according to advanced analytics. They held Kentucky, a team that had scored 103 points in victory against North Carolina and 92 points in defeat against UCLA, to just 39.7 percent shooting and 70 points.

The Cats hit just five of their 22 three-point attempts, and many of those shots appeared rushed in a vain effort to get the visitors back in the game, or catch up in a hurry.

“We had a lack of discipline, and that’s on me,” Calipari said. “If we’re playing that way, then that means I’ve accepted it.”

Then again, these are learning experiences. This was the first time that the Cats had played in front of a hostile crowd, much less a Louisville crowd that wanted desperately to turn the tide back in its favor.

Maybe Kentucky fans should just think of this as getting something out of the way. After all, in Calipari’s eight years as head coach, UK is now 2-6 the first time it plays on an opponent’s home floor in a season.

“The good news is, it is Dec. 21,” the coach said.

The good news for college basketball is that we keep getting great games like this, so early in the season.

“It’s good for the game,” said Pitino, happy to win one of those games.

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