Harrellson, Liggins lead UK to 78-63 win over Louisville (with video)



LOUISVILLE – The day before the game, Josh Harrellson said he didn’t understand the hate for Louisville. He disliked them, sure, and wanted to beat them, sure, but no hate.

Whether or not that changed, one thing is for sure: Louisville hates him now, after his 23 points and 14 rebounds in the first Yum! Center showdown between UK and Louisville.

Harrellson’s career game, a major part of UK’s 78-63 win, was unexpected to him, and gave head coach John Calipari an “emotional rush.”

“I never expected this,” Harrellson said. “If you asked me yesterday if I would have the best night of my life, I would have laughed. Like, I’ll get my 10 rebounds, maybe a couple points, but that’s about it. This is one of the best games I’ve ever had, and I’m happy as can be.”

So was Calipari, who said he was proud of the unlikely hero of the game.

“At first he didn’t say anything, like he didn’t know what to say,” Harrellson said of his coach’s postgame words. “He just looked at me like, ‘did you really just do this?’ He said good job kid, I said thanks, and we gave each other a hug.”

The unexpected game contained an unexpected shot when Harrellson made a three-pointer from the top of the key that Calipari said didn’t snap in, but crawled in.

“I was feeling it,” Harrellson said. “Got a rebound at the other end, hit a jump shot right before, and I was wide open. I was like, I’m going to knock this one down too, you better come guard me.”

Apparently he didn’t explicitly give Louisville that message, because he kept scoring. With Louisville’s Rakeem Buckles, a solid post presence, out for the game, Harrellson took advantage.

Harrellson’s production was substantially helped by Terrence Jones. While Jones didn’t have a great game individually — 12 points and eight rebounds, and he was benched within two minutes of the game for not posting up close enough to the basket — he was effective passing out of the double teams Louisville sent at him in waves. That left Harrellson with the ball and, often, an open look right under the basket.

“We obviously wanted to take away Jones in the low post and we did a good job,” Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said. “We just didn’t rotate to Harrellson in the low post.”

As Harrellson was being the box score superstar, however, DeAndre Liggins was playing stifling defense. He started the game guarding Peyton Siva, who Calipari said was the key to Louisville. Siva scored two points in the first half as Louisville struggled offensively, with only 24 points scored after 22 minutes of play.

Then, Preston Knowles started draining shot after shot in the middle of the second half as Louisville made nine straight shots and threatened to go on a run. UK withstood the run by making nine straight shots of its own, including a Brandon Knight three-pointer that muted the crowd, part of his game-high 25 points. UK put the final clamp down when Liggins was switched to guarding Knowles. He promptly shut him down, and the Louisville run did, too. They closed within 10 at one point, but couldn’t get any closer.

“The difference in the game was him and he was 1-for-7 from the floor,” Calipari said. “Played 39 minutes.”

The lack of scoring on Liggins meant Louisville had to be scoring on someone, though.

“I told Brandon (Knight), you just set a record — 87 percent of their points were scored on you,” Calipari said.

When the run was stopped, and UK still holding a lead with four minutes to play, seats began emptying and fans started trickling out of the new arena. It was a disappointing result to a new chapter in the rivalry, and even more disappointing to Pitino because Louisville didn’t take any time off over the break, while UK took a couple days away from the basketball court.

“It doesn’t take a smart answer to figure out they were the better basketball team, by far,” Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said.


John Calipari on the UK win, part 1:

John Calipari on the UK win, part 2:

Josh Harrellson on his career night:

Rick Pitino on the UK win: