Cards fall 78 to 63 against the Big Blue
By AJ Pfeiffer
“Its the most wonderful time of the year!” as the song says, especially if you’re a basketball fan in the bluegrass state. New Years Eve day marks the 42nd installment of the perennial rivalry between the university of Louisville Cardinals and the University of Kentucky Wildcats, and while at the beginning of the day all the fans may share the aforementioned sentiment, at the end of the contest that number will surely be cut in half.
After a hard fought loss for the Cardinals in Lexington last year (leaving the all time record at 27-14 in favor of Kentucky), it was no surprise that the Cats faced a somewhat hostile reception as they crossed Denny Crum court in Louisville on Friday afternoon.
The visiting Wildcats entered the contest at 10-2, and after much scrutiny as to whether they could fill the NBA depleted shoes of last years team, are off to a hot start behind freshmen Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight. This pair, who have replaced lottery picks John Wall and Demarcus Cousins could pose the largest challenges to the Cards. Certainly the matchup between veteran centers Terrence Jennings and UK’s Josh Harrelson is the most anticipated, as they represent the interior threats for both teams. While has the edge in statistics, Jennings shot blocking prowess and experience aims to test the big man’s metal.
Louisville’s edge comes with the tremendous depth of their bench. Even with the absence of Rakeem Buckles (wrist injury) the Cards have a substantial advantage when it comes to getting fresh bodies on to the court. As for John Calipari’s squad, the Cats only dress ten and rely heavily on only a six man rotation. It is very likely that the tale of today’s game could be one of conditioning and depth.
Regardless of the story lines this rivalry games debut at the KFC Yum! Center saw all the familiar pre-game trappings of one of the grandest rivalries in all of sports.
Getting the start down low for the Cards was freshmen Gorgui Dieng, who won the opening tip.
The Cardinals jumped out to an early 6-2 lead, behind three pointers from Knowles and Kuric and would hold that lead until the 11:22 mark when the Wildcats took the lead 14-15. From that point the tone was set by the visitors from Lexington. Rebounding and inside play became the key to Kentucky’s success, and a career performance by Harrelson, which was nothing short of domination in the paint, boosted the Cats to a 35-24 lead at the half.
The second half while played at what seemed a faster pace, looked even worse for the Cardinals. Dieng aggravated an ankle injury suffered in warm-ups, and saw no playing time in the final half. Jennings played the entirety of the second half, but was simply outmatched today by Harrelson who ended up with 23 points and 15 rebounds.
A bright spot for the Cardinals was Mr. Reliable himself, team captain Preston Knowles. Knowles single handedly led a 10-2 run in middle of the second half to cut Kentucky’s lead to 9. Knowles went 6-10 from behind the arch and scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half.
His counterpart for the Cats, Brandon Knight lived up to the hype, delivering a somewhat quiet 25 points. Yet, quiet or not, between Knight, Harrelson and their blatant height advantage the Wildcats proved to be too much for this years Cardinal squad. As the final buzzer sounded Kentucky took the first meeting between the two teams in the Yum! Center, 78 to 63.