Upperclassmen lead UK past rival Cardinals



By Anthony Crawford

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Over the years, the recent successes of UK and the University of Louisville has caused this game to rise in pedigree to a point where now this rivalry is right up there with the likes of the University of North Carolina/Duke rivalry. This game always has implications for the tournament in March and some of its best games have actually come in March like the Final Four matchup in 2012.

The latest installment was no different as the Battle of the Bluegrass was once again the center of the college basketball world. This one turned into an instant classic as it came down to the final buzzer between No. 12 UK and No. 16 Louisville. It was the Cats, led by sophomore Tyler Ulis, who were able to come out with a 75-73 win over the Cardinals.

Both teams came into the matchup searching for validation of some sort. For Louisville, the Cardinals were looking to prove they are the same team that went toe-to-toe with No. 1 Michigan State. For the Cats, the team is trying to put two bad losses behind them, in Ohio State and UCLA, and show they can get back to the level of play that they showed against Duke in Chicago.

The first half started with the Cats answering the call for the most part. UK was dominating the glass and Ulis was making his shots after being in a slump as of late. The sophomore guard had 15 first half points, but everybody else on the team struggled to score besides him.

The player that embodied that struggle the most was freshman Jamal Murray. Murray finished 3-14 from the field and, while he did hit some timely threes in the second half, they were offset by the seven turnovers he had.

The team’s struggle allowed for the Cardinals to hang around. They were led by senior transfer Trey Lewis in the first half as he was able to nearly match Ulis with 12 points.

UK was down in the first half by five before it was able to turn it around following John Calipari receiving a technical. The outburst by the coach got the team’s attention and they were able to go on a 14-2 run to close out the half thanks in large part to Alex Poythress’ play in the post and Dominique Hawkins’ outside shooting.

Coming out of the half, UK played through its senior Poythress, who proved to be a difficult matchup with his speed and strength. Poythress was involved in the team’s first eight points to start the half, scoring six and then assisting on one field goal. He finished the game with 14 points, six rebounds, and was also active on the defensive end coming up with 3 blocks.

“We put Alex in the middle and told him to attack.” Calipari said. “Alex is an elite athlete.”

Despite getting the lead up to as high as 16, UK was unable to pull away. While it was Lewis in the first half, it was the other transfer for UofL, Damion Lee, who provided a scoring punch for the Cards in the second half. Lee totaled 27 points, with 14 of those coming in the second half alone.

With 3:14 left to play in the game, Lee hit a layup to cut the UK lead to 70-68. From there, the game was  closed out by the Kentucky-native, Hawkins. Hawkins hit a three to go up three and then two free-throws to extend the lead to five.

“(Hawkins) never changed his emotion the whole time.” Calipari said. “He defended, he’ll fight like crazy, he’s got a great temperament, a great demeanor.”

From there the Cards got within two points, but the game-winning shot attempt by Lee was altered by Poythress.

Hawkins finished the game with career-high 13 points and was one of UK most reliable shooters as he went 3-4 from deep. An ankle injury sustained during warmups by Isaiah Briscoe was what opened up playing time for the junior and he came up huge in the rivalry game.

“This is a huge rivalry game and I know what it means to Kentucky folks,” Hawkins said. “I was thinking that it is my shot and I would probably get a lot of playing time today, which I did.”

The player of the day was Ulis, however. His final statline of 21 points, 8 assists and only one turnover against the Louisville press was good enough for him to repeat as Bluegrass Sports Commission’s MVP of the game after also receiving the award last year as a freshman. After providing much of the scoring for UK during the first half, Ulis also hit a few big shots in the second including a few deep threes to beat the shot-clock.

“He’s not afraid to miss,” Calipari said.

With the win Calipari now holds a record of 8-1 against Louisville and 12-5 against Rick Pitino. UK moves to 10-2 on the season as they are set to start SEC play against Ole Miss next Saturday.