- Saturday, December 17 2005 -
Louisville - 61 (Head Coach: Rick Pitino) - [Ranked 4th by AP and 4th by ESPN/USA Today]
Kentucky - 73 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 23rd by AP and 22nd by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 39, Louisville 24
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Indiana 53 - 79|||||Iona 73 - 67|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats defeather Cards in 73-61 win
Kentucky needed a performance that would restore its typical swagger. Louisville just needed a win over someone relevant. The Cats won that battle of wills in a 73-61 wire-to-wire victory in a rollicking Rupp Arena.
UK scored the game's first eight points and built the lead to as many as 23 points before Louisville rallied in the last 10 minutes to make the score more respectable in the end. Still, it was just what UK needed after a blowout loss to Indiana just seven days before.
"This was huge," senior guard Ravi Moss said. "We needed this bad. We needed to play well and that's what we did. We found the way we need to play. That's what is most important."
The Cats arrived at Rupp a wounded animal and played the part of a team backed into a corner. With the Indiana debacle still fresh in their minds, the Cats exploded out of the gate with a passion and focus that had been missing thus far this season. Before Louisville could catch its breath, UK was ahead 13-3 and the Cards had missed 13 of their first 14 shots.
"We hadn't played well," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "This was our best all-around effort in all phases of the game. The start was big. We got off to a great start and that energized us.
"We showed a lot of character after a bad loss (to Indiana). This was by far the best we played all year. We showed a lot of heart and hustle."
Having spent of the season with a frontcourt that had been ripped by Smith, the media and fans, UK went with Lukasz Obrzut and Sheray Thomas to start the game. On the heels of the NCAA ruling sophomore Randolph Morris would be eligible to play after 14 games, those two provided their best games in UK uniforms. Obrzut hauled in a career-high nine rebounds in 30 minutes of action, while Thomas added a career-high 11 points (nine in the first half) and added six rebounds.
"Our post men have been much maligned by everyone out there, but they played extremely hard," Smith said.
Thomas admitted he was tired of hearing about how bad they were and decided it was time to make a stand. A phone call from home reminded him that he and his post mates were plenty good enough to make a contribution.
"It's all we had been hearing all year long," Thomas said. "We heard how bad we were. We didn't like that. We were tired of hearing we have no post people, no moves, no nothing."
The play of UK's interior also helped ease the load on the Cats' talented perimeter players. After having a "long talk" with Smith earlier in the week, Rajon Rondo continued to make his case for All-American status with 25 points, seven assists, three rebounds and two steals. Joe Crawford shook off the effects of a bum knee and contributed nine points and seven rebounds, plus one hellacious dunk over Louisville's David Padgett and Terrance Williams at the start of the second half. Ramel Bradley added eight points and two assists, all of which helped offset Patrick Sparks' quiet game.
"Kentucky has one of the top backcourts in the country," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "Rondo is a terrific guard. He is one of the top five guards in the country. When he hits his free throws he is really tough.
"Rondo can get anywhere on the court he wants with the basketball. Very few guys can do that. He makes everyone of the court better."
Rondo's ability to penetrate helped spark the Cats on a 17-6 run late in the first half after the Cardinals had recovered from their rough start and pulled within 17-13. The 6-foot-1 Louisville native buried a three from the top of the key, had a three-point play on the break off a no-look pass from Bradley, drove and dished to Shagari Alleyne for a dunk and then set up Thomas for his third three-point make is as many attempts this year. By the time the spurt was up, UK led 34-19 and was in complete control.
Meanwhile, UK was locking down Louisville and frustrating the youthful players. Louisville shot just 26.5 percent in the first half and were so discombobulated, typically stellar guard Taquan Dean had no chance to get going and finished with 14 points on just 5-of-16 shooting.
The Cards' frustration reached a boiling point when Pitino was whistled for a technical foul by referee Doug Shows while protesting a charging call on guard Andre McGee. The outburst came much to the delight of the second-largest crowd in Rupp Arena history.
"We played like a young, immature team," Pitino said.
"I take responsibility for this loss," Dean said. "I wasn't a very good leader today. They were feeding off me and I wasn't leading them in the right direction."
For UK, it was a resounding answer to a week full of questions and predictions of doom.
"I felt as bad as I possibly could have felt after the Indiana game," Bradley said. "It was tough. We needed to show we could play together as a team and we did.
"This was big."
As far as mid-December games go, it gets no bigger.
Joe Crawford and Rajon Rondo surround Louisville's Taquan Dean
Lukasz Obrzut dunks
Rajon Rondo looks for a teammate