Kansas survived Ohio State in last week’s Final Four rematch, but the tables were turned in Louisville’s 80-77 triumph over their in-state rivals in the KFC Yum! Center.
Russ Smith picked up his fourth foul with over nine minutes remaining in the second half, joining Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva on the bench in similar straits. Despite the looming disqualification of Louisville’s Big Three, the Cards continued to play aggressively and survived to claim the win in the renewal of the Battle of the Bluegrass.
The fact that it came down to fouls may tip a clever reader off to the fact that it also came down to foul shots. Therein lies the rub for Calipari-coached teams, and the beat went on at the free throw line. The Wildcats shot better from the floor (48.3%) than they did from the line (47.8%). The mega-athletic Willie Cauley-Stein had a particularly awful night at the line, missing all four of his freebies.
Siva scored 19 before his fifth foul sent him permanently to the bench with :35 left, but teammates Russ Smith (21 points) and Gorgui Dieng (6 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks) were able to stay on the court until the final buzzer. Dieng was playing his first game back from a hand injury that held him out of the past seven games, and he was playing — for the first time in his college career — in front of his parents, who flew in from Senegal for the big rivalry game.
Kentucky got solid play from Ryan Harrow (17 points), Archie Goodwin (22 points) and Kyle Wiltjer (14). The Wildcats played more of a finesse game, however, which was often brought up short by the physical pounding laid on by the Cardinals. Russ Smith and Chane Behanan (20 points) combined for six steals, and Louisville threw several traps and screens at the younger Wildcats throughout the game. Nonetheless, Harrow upheld his end of the bargain, as pointed out by regional radio host Larry Glover:
Harrow didn’t have a TO in 37 minutes against U of L pressure.nice!
— Larry Glover (@larrygloverlive) December 29, 2012
While Kentucky is improving, the team concept has yet to completely gel, obviously. Louisville continues to struggle to score at times, but with Dieng back, they’ll stay on the road to the Final Four until someone is able to knock them off course.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor and tweets @stfhoops.