The Louisville Cardinals host their in-state rival, the Kentucky Wildcats, in what promises to be the biggest game in Chris Mack’s first year as head coach of the Cards. No amount of words can do justice for how big the rivalry is for both teams and today’s game holds great significance for both teams in the larger scope of the season. For the Cats, it can be a major tone setter for their upcoming conference slate and give them the momentum to improve their resume’ for the NCAA tournament. For the Cards, a win in this game can provide more validation that the program is well ahead of schedule in the rebuilding phase of the Chris Mack area and give them confidence heading into ACC play.
The Cardinals started the game off strong with Darius Perry hitting a three pointer on the first possession and a basket on the following to score the first five points for Louisville. The Cats came to play as well and seemed to have an answer for everything Louisville did on the court. A Christen Cunningham three point basket tied the game at 11 just over five minutes into the game. As both teams settled in Louisville began to struggle with turnovers and sloppy play as UK turned the intensity up. Louisville also had difficulty keeping UK off the boards as the got outrebounded 16-12 which included some offensive rebounds. UK would take advantage and go on a run to stretch the lead to as many as 12. Louisville looked to take advantage of Kentucky Point Guard Ashton Hagans picking up his second foul and close the gap. A Christen Cunningham corner three with a minute to go and a Jordan Nwora fastbreak slam at the buzzer cut the deficit to 8 as the Cards trailed the Cats 35-27 at the break.
As the second half began both teams wasted little time getting back into the flow of the game as shots seemed to fall for both teams early on. Kentucky slowly started to stretch out their lead by grinding out possessions and playing tough defense. For a stretch it seemed as though Louisville could not find any offensive consistency although their defense helped keep the lead from growing to a larger margin. A highlight of the second half was a drive and slam by Jordan Nwora with 7 and a half minutes left in the game. In an effort to switch things up and make Kentucky uncomfortable, Chris Mack put Louisville in a 1-3-1 defense, the first time Kentucky had seen zone all day, and for a handful of possessions it seemed as if Louisville had found an answer. This was short-lived as UK soon got the shots they were wanting in their zone offense and Louisville could not keep the Cats off the glass. The difference in the game was points in the paint, as UK owned a 42-22 advantage in that department and it spoke volumes as to how they attacked Louisville defensively. The Cardinals would go on to lose by a final score of 71-58.
With the loss Louisville drops to 9-4 overall on the season and suffers their first loss at home as well. Looking ahead the Cards head into ACC play in a good spot with still much left to prove on the season and with plenty of time to make their presence known nationally and qualify for the NCAA tournament. The Cardinals return to action January 6th against the Miami Hurricanes at the YUM! Center.