The only disappointing thing about the University of Louisville’s 80-77 win over Kentucky is that the margin should have been much wider. U of L was clearly the better team.
UK was ready to be buried, trialing 51-34 at the 14:57 mark in the second half, struggling to move the ball, badly missing shots, primed for its worst loss in the series. Blood in the water.
Hey, this is too easy. Intensity sags, focus get fuzzy, offense gets casual, along with the defense.
Two consecutive three-point shots by UK’s Kyle Wiljer would result. Two straight misses by Russ Smith, a turnover and two quick fouls by Peyton Siva, another by Dieng, would bring about the inevitable, the typical mad rush in the closing minutes.
Such a physical game beneath the baskets but this particular officiating crew appeared to be more anticipatory than reactionary. Siva would collect his fourth at the 10:11 mark on a play in which it appeared he took a punch to his lower abdomen, his fifth with 33 seconds to go on a play in which contact couldn’t be verified on TV replays.
Chane Behanan setting the early tone with the fall-away shot and the reverse dunk in the first half and those two colossal slam dunks in the closing 44 seconds. Equally important, he’s becoming more confident and proficient at the free throw line, four of six attempts there, no longer the equivalent of an automatic turnover.
Russ Smith will get too many fouls called on him because the hand is quicker than the eye, officials unable to process the speed without blowing their whistles. He would be credited with only three steals in this game as a result. The word will spread, though, and the striped ones will know what to expect. When he’s got the ball going to the basket, anything can happen, usually good. Leading scorer with 21 points.
As a senior, Siva finally got his first win over Kentucky, managing the game effectively before foul trouble catches up with him, making good on two of four three-point attempts and all five of his free throw attempts. UK may not be a top 25 team but it does have a reputation and Siva didn’t let it bother him. Another good sign for him and his team.
Gorgui Dieng playing with fire in his eyes, a look that signals trouble to future opponents. Wanting this game badly, not worried about his demeanor with his folks in the stands. Managing seven rebounds, six points and a couple of blocks while re-acclimating himself to the basketball wars.
The most unfortunate part about giving up the 17-point lead over Kentucky was that UK, with all its future NBA draft picks, will have something to build on, rally around and be a much better team come March. UofL, meanwhile, needs to develop a killer instinct, losing it when it most counted against a bitter rival.