Kentucky plays as winners under enormous pressure to compete with Louisville

The first 44 minutes, 52 seconds were mainly about trying to secure a victory that the Kentucky Wildcats desperately needed. They had lost two in a row. They had lost three times in the first two months of the season. They were not conquered by a formidable series of power opponents, but by Evansville and Utah.

The last eight seconds, however, were about their rivalry with the Louisville Cardinals as they are. The game was decided, though not over, when Wildcats point guard Ashton Hagans stole the ball from the Cardinals’ Ryan McMahon and popped into the open frontcourt. He could shy away the rest of the time, and he probably would have if the opponent wasn’t 80 miles down the road and in the same general blueblood neighborhood.

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He didn’t make dribbles the rest of the time.

“Will lead, will dunk!” shouted Wildcats Tom Leach’s voice to the UK Sports Network. “Happy New Year to BBN!”

So the Big Blue Nation celebrated another victory in a row against Louisville, 78-70 overtime Saturday at the Rupp Arena, the 11th Wildcats in 13 meetings since John Calipari became their coach. Kentucky holds a 37-16 advantage over the Cardinals. He didn’t place in the Elite Eight, like the one in March 1984 or March 2014. It didn’t mean the United Kingdom had reached the NCAA championship game like the one in April 2012. Regarding the time when It happened, however, it was just as important as the outcome of any regular season.

“Before the games start, I’ll get the result, I’ll deal with it,” Calipari told the radio show after the game. “I need to worry less about me and worry more, ‘How do these kids feel? “

“If we lost, if we played like that and we lost, I would say, ‘Guys, I know you’re crazy and we have to win every game up to 20, but I’m on the right track.’ But it was good for them to win because they have to feel success. “

It wasn’t a perfect performance for Kentucky. The Wildcats (9-3) missed several opportunities to punish the mismatches that left smaller players defending forward Nate Sestina and EJ Montgomery in low positions. I waited too long to get the signal sent by the officials during the first four minutes of the second half that the natural base game allowed in the opening 20 minutes would now be organized completely differently. Louisville (11-2) returned eight of the first nine fouls in the second half, passing the ball into position and repeating this action when referees began to shout a touch foul in the center of the United Kingdom Nick Richards.

And, perhaps most damaging of all, Hagans froze when a key defensive rebound bounced straight to him with 2:27 left in overtime and the game still tied. After a difficult delay, he reached the ball with his right hand, but it was too slow and too convincing. Louisville’s Dwayne Sutton grabs it and the Cards forward him to give Jordan Nwora his place on a 3-pointer transition.

“If we get this ball, it might be a different game,” Callipari said. “We have to call the timetable now, 2:20 left, and go in (with the dog) with 18- and 19-year-olds to think the game is over. It is not over. You are still playing.”

Hagans was generally less aggressive in this game, less willing to attack, but avoided charging calls that I might have expected if he had penetrated more often and directed the offense so meticulously that he was credited with assisting over a third of the baskets. of.

The Wildcats became very reliant on scoring, as the 12-point lead they had made early in the second half was reduced and eventually dropped, but their shooters reached a level they did not propose to make possible through the first 11 games of the season.

Tyrese Maxey scored 27 career points and hit 4 of 5 from long range. Immanuel Quickley made 2 of 6 and earned a better career. As a team, the Wildcats were 7 of 15 deep.

Most importantly, they delivered the pressure of this game – much of it self-inflicted due to the losses of Utah and Evansville – as the winners. He was 21 of 25 from the line. Richards, a 71% passionate shooter, made 5 of 7 from the line, including one to complete a three-point play that answered that huge 3-pointer from Nwora and a pair to give Kentucky a 72- lead. 70 to 27.4 seconds overtime.

Most strikingly, they were chasing Nwora at 2-10 with eight points. He averaged 21.2, but first-year Keion Brooks and then Quickley, with help from others along the way, refused to allow him access to the ball in threatening circumstances. He never found a way into the game. His finish led Louisville to shoot just 40.3% from the floor.

“We’re not there yet, we’re a good team,” Calipari said. “We are not a very good team, we have good players, I would like to become great players, I would like to be a great team and this is one of those years.

“I think we went to the trade deadline. Beyond the trade deadline. This is our team. This is what we have, we can’t market it. This is the same. So it’s good to see how good we can have.”

This may not be as good as Kentucky in the recent past. It probably won’t be as good as its more demanding fans. It may be good enough, though, for this weird season in college basketball.

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