The Battle of the Bluegrass Was Nothing Short of a Rivalry Game, Cardinals beat Wildcats 62-59 in Louisville
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The University of Kentucky Wildcats (1-6) lost the Battle of the Bluegrass to the Louisville Cardinals (6-1). That's it, that's what happened.
With Terrence Clarke battling injury from the week leading up to the game, Head Coach John Calipari went with a smaller lineup than usual. Freshman Devin Askew and senior Davion Mintz were in the backcourt, while freshmen Brandon Boston Jr. and Isaiah Jackson teamed up with senior Olivier Sarr in the frontcourt. With the Wildcats desperately needing a win against their in-state rivals, they were as prepared as they were going to be as they went to battle with the Cardinals.
Cats vs Cards
Devin Askew got out of his scoring slump and filled up the scoring column early as he made a layup and a deep ball to score the Cats' first five points of the game. Characteristically, it was a low-scoring first half for the Wildcats, but also a low-scoring half from the Cards. On the year, the Cats average about 64.9 points a game, while the Cards average 69.3 points per game. On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats give up an abysmal 66.6 points per game compared to Louisville's 61.4. With the halftime score of 27-28 in favor of the Cardinals, as a basketball fan, this was a tough half to watch. From a Kentucky fan's point of view, this showed optimism, but from a Louisville fan's point of view, I am sure there were some feelings of nervousness. Either way, the game was close and was living up to its hype nonetheless.
Much like the first half, the second half was kept close right up to the final minute of the game. Once again, Kentucky was heavily reliant on their bench to come into the game and make an impact. Sophomore transfer from Rhode Island Jacob Toppin was able to come into the game and put up 10 points. On the other hand, injury-ridden freshman Terrence Clarke came off the bench but only managed a pitiful 1 turnover in his 16 minutes of action. Isaiah Jackson provided the highlight play of the afternoon when he snatched a Cardinal jumpshot out of the air and finished an alley-oop dunk on the other end from a pass by fellow freshman Devin Askew. This was a huge moment for the Cats because it would kickstart their second half as they battled their rivals. While trailing 59-60 with 9 seconds remaining in the game, Olivier Sarr was given the same opportunity to hit the same midrange jump shot to put the Cats in front as he was against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Dec. 12th. After seemingly going in and out of the basket, the shot would not fall. After two made free throws by the Cardinals' go-to guy, senior Carlik Jones, the Cardinals were up by three. The Wildcats drew up a play that saw Brandon Boston Jr. attempt a three pointer to win the game as time expired, which was just off the mark. The Wildcats would lose the game 62-59, seeing the Wildcats drop to 1-6 on the season and the Cardinals celebrate like they had just won a national championship (that wasn't stripped).
Davion Mintz: 19 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists
Brandon Boston Jr: 11 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist
Jacob Toppin: 10 points, 6 rebounds
Carlik Jones: 20 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists
Are UK Playing the Right Guys?
With Davion Mintz continuing his high-scoring performances with 19 points against Louisville, it baffled me when the Cats drew up a three point shot to tie the game for struggling Brandon Boston Jr. Why not go to Mintz who was 4 of 6 from behind the arc on Saturday? Mintz seems to be the consistent scorer the Wildcats have needed all season, but maybe he isn't being surrounded with the correct teammates. With freshman Dontaie Allen playing just 19 minutes all season, why not try him for a few minutes during the game? Jacob Toppin contributed 10 points off of the bench, which was more than Askew, Jackson, and Sarr, so why not give him more minutes or even a start? Coach Cal needs to change things up, he is going to need more than just 5-star recruits to win basketball games.
Cam'Ron Fletcher Returns to Team
Freshman forward Cam'Ron Fletcher has returned to the Kentucky basketball team following the loss after being asked to step away from all basketball activities for some time. After being upset about his playing time during the season and against the North Carolina Tar Heels on Dec. 19th, I hope Fletcher has shown Big Blue Nation that he cares about this team and winning. I think we need more guys like this on the team because it seems like the Wildcats aren't playing with enough heart to win basketball games. Plain and simple.
What's Next for Kentucky?
After the loss, Coach Cal said "losing stinks." I mean he is right, but come on man, do something to fix this six-game losing streak we are on. As the Cats are scheduled to face SEC member Mississippi State next Saturday, Calipari was looking to get another out of conference game in before then, but this will not happen. Although, to be fair, would we even be guaranteed a win against an out of conference opponent? Nonetheless, the Cats will prepare for a Bulldogs team that is 5-3, and hopefully UK can put up some sort of fight as we head into conference play.