With all the fouls called and the bodies flying and the missed shots and turnovers, Friday night in Rupp Arena may not have looked like a March showcase in the early days of December, but Kentucky-Texas sure had that feel.
"That," said Texas Coach Rick Barnes afterward, "was a Big Boy Game."
Make sure that's capitalized.
Kentucky came out on top 63-51 in a rock-em/sock-em robots of a contest that the late, great Cawood Ledford might have labeled "not for the faint-hearted." There were 51 fouls called, 68 missed shots and 30 turnovers, 22 of which belonged to the losing team.
If you were expecting offensive fireworks, however, you didn't do your homework. Kentucky entered the game not only No. 1 in the rankings but No. 1 in field goal percentage defense. Texas entered the game not only No. 6 in the rankings but No. 3 in field goal percentage defense.
"I don't know if I've ever coached in a game where the size and the strength and the physicality was what it was," Barnes said. "Baskets were hard to come by."
"It was hard to get a pass," said UK Coach John Calipari. "There were so many big bodies on the floor."
In the end, Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein stood tallest, scoring 21 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, blocking three shots and making five steals. At the end of the night, however, both teams proved they're not just tall, they can stand tall.
What the game lacked in artistry of motion, it made up for in the crunching of bones. In the night's biggest surprise, Kentucky was outrebounded 27-11 in the first half. Texas collected more offensive rebounds (13) than Kentucky had total rebounds. "The first half was a dogfight," Calipari said. "And they were the bigger dogs."
The second half brought a course correction, right from the outset. Texas' Jonathan Holmes picked up his third foul just 15 seconds in and had to come out. "As a senior," Barnes said, "Jonathan has to be smarter than that."
"I apologized to my team," Holmes would say later.
Next thing you know, Kentucky was off on a 10-0 run. The Cats then stretched that to 18-2. A 26-26 halftime deadlock was now a comfortable 44-28 advantage for the home team with 11:23 left.
Barnes said he knew his team would fight back and he was right. By the 7:48 mark, the Longhorns were within 49-41. With 4:01 left, Texas had cut the Kentucky lead to 53-47 and had a chance to get it closer only to see a pass by Connor Lammert end up in the hands of Cauley-Stein.
"He affected the game every way you can," said Barnes.
With 1:44 left, Texas had it down to 55-51, but again Cauley-Stein came through, making a free throw, then jamming home a lob from Andrew Harrison, then hitting two more free throws.
"He was ridiculous," said Calipari.
Come March, both those teams should be plenty ridiculous. Remember, Texas was playing without its starting point guard and leading scorer, Isaiah Taylor, out for the time being with a broken wrist. "Obviously, I think we're a whole different team with Isaiah," Barnes said. "But that's neither here nor there."
Texas didn't get much from fab freshman Myles Turner, who made just one of five shots and fouled out with six points and five rebounds in 18 minutes. In December, this stage was a little too big. By March, it won't be.
On the flip side, Kentucky's guards couldn't throw the ball in the ocean. Aaron Harrison, star of last year's postseason run, missed eight of his nine shots. Andrew Harrison missed six of his eight. Tyler Ulis missed four of his five shots. Devin Booker missed all five of his.
"And we won?" said Calipari in mock surprise. "What just happened?"
What happened was an oversized game between oversized teams that can still can grow.
"We could be seeing them hopefully right down in the last game, it's us and them," Calipari said. " Hopefully we're good enough to be that, but I see them being that kind of team."