- Saturday, December 27 2003 -
Louisville - 65 (Head Coach: Rick Pitino) - [Ranked 20th by AP]
|Alhaji Mohammed (*)||16||3||4||0||0||1||1||0||3||3||2||0||2||0||0||7|
Kentucky - 56 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 2nd by AP and 1st by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 31, Louisville 26
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Eastern Kentucky 101 - 72|||||Austin Peay 61 - 53|
Game Writeup - Written by and courtesy of Matt May; Kentucky Sports Report, (All Rights Reserved)
Louisville sends Cats home blue again
Two and counting.
That's the winning streak Louisville now holds over Kentucky after the Cardinals erased an early 24-10 deficit by outscoring the Cats 55-32 over the final 30 minutes en route to a 65-56 victory at Rupp Arena.
The Cardinals (7-1) shut down UK's inside attack by switching defenses and employing a 2-3 zone for much of the game. Despite hitting nine three-pointers, UK (7-1) couldn't hit many shots, slipping to a 33.9 percent shooting clip for the game. The lack of an inside game (Louisville outscored UK 28-16 in the paint) forced the Cats to take a lot of quick and ill-advised shots, making the Cardinals' pressure even more effective.
"We took a lot of bad shots," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "We went right back to the same things we were doing in the early games. Our shot selection became contagious. One guy does it, everybody does it. It wasn't one guy, it was everybody."
Although UK sprinted out to a 14-point lead behind the three-point shooting of Cliff Hawkins, the Cats began to unravel in the face of Louisville's effort and defense. Much like a year ago in Freedom Hall, the Cards whittled the lead back down to one just before halftime on two Alhaji Mohammed steals and lay-ins. UK did get the lead back to five at the break, but the trend had been set.
"I told (the team), 'In the final moments, which defense is better?'" Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "We played great defense. They're a great team, the best Kentucky team I've seen. But we played great post defense. We just had one of those special moments that happens once a lifetime."
The moment has happened twice now. UK opened the lead back up to 39-30 with a run to start the second half, but another extended dry spell costs the Cats dearly. Louisville ran off a 16-2 spurt, capped by a Otis George dunk on a fast break and a Francisco Garcia three from the wing to make it a 46-43 Cardinal lead with eight minutes left.
UK fought back and reclaimed the lead 49-46, but the Cards ripped off another 11-2 jaunt as UK point guard Cliff Hawkins forced another bad one-on-one attempt. Hawkins, who scored 12 points in the first 14 minutes of the game, got into foul trouble and started doing very uncharacteristic things with the ball, finishing without another point and with five turnovers.
"They really got after us a whole lot in the second half," Hawkins said. "I blame a whole lot of it on myself. They forced me into turnovers and I made some bad decisions."
Still, UK had one final chance. After a timeout at the 1:42 mark, Fitch (who shot just 3-of-12) drilled a three-pointer from the top of the key and was fouled by Taquan Dean. Fitch hit the free throw to pull UK within 57-55 with 1:35 remaining.
But Garcia, who didn't score in the first half and finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, rose up over Kelenna Azubuike on the following possession, nailing a three from the top of the key to extend the lead to five points. UK's Erik Daniels nearly brought UK to within at least three when he rattled out a bank shot while being fouled. But true to UK's night, the shot didn't fall and Daniels made just one of his two free throws as the game slipped away.
As for Pitino, he was soundly booed at the beginning of the game but he again got the last laugh, beating UK for the second time in three tries since returning to the Commonwealth.
"We've got a great respect for their ball club and we prepared our asses off," Pitino said. "I coached eight years here and I loved my teams. I expect to be booed. It doesn't bother me because it's a compliment.
"This is the best moment of being a part of a team I've had. I'm very proud of my team."
Gerald Fitch moves against Alhaji Mohammed
Erik Daniels shoots against Luke Whitehead