Five Takeaways from No. 10 Louisville’s win over No. 6 Kentucky

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Quentin Snider put on for his city.

One of just two Cardinals from Louisville, Snider went for 22 points, six boards and five assists as No. 10 Louisville made a statement with a 73-70 win over their archrival, No. 6 Kentucky.

It was Louisville’s first second marquee win of the season, and it dropped the Wildcats to 2-6 in road openers under John Calipari.

Here are the five things we can takeaway from that game:

1. Louisville is a different team when their guards are making perimeter shots: That’s been the knock on them all season long. Entering Wednesday’s game, the trio of Donovan Mitchell, Quentin Snider and Deng Adel were shooting under 32 percent from three and none of the three were shooting better than 37 percent from the floor, and that’s after they had spent the last couple of weeks actually knocking down jumpers.

On Wednesday, the Cards shot 6-for-14 from beyond the arc, which was, percentage-wise, their best three-point shooting performance of the season. But it was also the most promising because none of the threes they shot were forced and all three of those guards knocked down a pair. They were able to get to the rim and make plays off the bounce, in part because Kentucky had to respect that five of those threes went in in the first half.

Also promising?

On a night where the Cardinals went 5-for-11 from deep in the first half, they attempted just three second half threes.

2. Quentin Snider had himself a day: Entering the season, all the talk surrounding this Louisville team was about how good Mitchell and Adel had the potential to be; some of it was about how they could end up being good enough to make up for the fact that the Cardinals were starting Snider at the point. Entering this game, the talk was about De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, and how in the world were the Louisville guards going to be able to deal with that duo.

And by the middle of the second half on Wednesday, the story was Snider, whose 22 points were a career-high. He was the best player on the floor for either team, which isn’t hyperbole and is about the most shocking thing to come out of this game. That’s not because Snider isn’t good – we’ve seen him have big games before – but more that he’s never found a way to be much more than a tease.

This is what I mean: Last season, Snider went for 20 points on two different occasions. The games were about two weeks apart, and came in the middle of a seven-week stretch where they were the only two games in which he cracked double-figures. Snider had a slow-start to this season, but he’s scored at least nine points in every game for the last month, he’s averaging 16.7 points in his last three and has hit at least two threes in each of his last four games.

And he capped it with this performance.

If he can be a guy that is a consistent source of offense and perimeter shooting, it takes a whole lot of the burden off of Adel and Mitchell.

Speaking of Deng Adel: He had himself a day as well, finishing with a career-high 18 points in what was a breakout performance for the sophomore. He’s been a guy that’s run hot and cold this season. You can see the talent that he has when he plays like he did on Wednesday which is why it’s frustrating to look at his numbers this season and see that he’s shooting 35.5 percent from the floor and 28.9 percent from three.

LOUISVILLE, KY - DECEMBER 21: Deng Adel #22 of the Louisville Cardinals dribbles the ball during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at KFC YUM! Center on December 21, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Deng Adel (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

3. Spin zone!: Let’s take this loss for Kentucky in perspective:

  • The Wildcats were playing their first true road game of the season. It was the first true road game in the college career of four of their starters, including their superstar back court.
  • Malik Monk was off. He was 6-for-17 from the floor, 3-for-14 on jumpers and 1-for-9 from three on a night where Louisville’s defense kept him out of a rhythm and forcing tough jumpers off the dribble.
  • Bam Adebayo looked dominant when he got touches, but he also looked like a freshman playing on the road for the first time. He had a couple of sloppy turnovers, he got burned in ball-screen actions on Louisville’s final two field goals and he was 1-for-6 from the free throw in the second half.
  • As a team, Kentucky shot 19-for-29 from the line.
  • As a team, Louisville shot 42.1 percent from three. They entered the game 248th nationally in three-point percentage.

And despite all of that, Kentucky lost by just a single point to a top ten team on the road.

Losing this game damages Kentucky’s chances of getting a No. 1 seed, but it should only reinforce the idea that this team is more than good enough to win a national title.

4. Kentucky won’t hit their peak until they get more out of their supporting cast: I said it after the win against North Carolina and Kentucky fans crushed me for it, but I’ll say it again: Kentucky needs to get more out of players not named Fox or Monk, particularly offensively. They combined to create 87 of Kentucky’s 103 points against North Carolina, which is terrific when they’re rolling and a red flag on the nights they’re not.

It looked, early on, like that was going to be Bam Adebayo’s breakout game. He had 10 points midway through the second half and was 5-for-5 from the floor with a trio of absolutely monstrous dunks, but that dissipated down the stretch as Bam missed free throws and was left in the dust when he switched on Louisville’s guards. He’ll get there, but he’s not quite there yet. Isaiah Briscoe played a really good floor game – he had five boards, three assists and helped shut down Mitchell – but that’s who he is against this level of competition. Kentucky can’t hold out hope he’s going to average 18 points against teams that can match his size and strength.

To me, the answer is either Derek Willis or Mychal Mulder. Both of those guys are snipers from beyond the arc, which will help create more space in the half court. Willis already rotates with Wenyen Gabriel at the four, but Mulder played the first really meaningful minutes of his career against the Cardinals. It worked, as he hit a pair of triples in nine minutes of action.

Whoever it ends up being, Kentucky needs to find another consistent source of points outside of their big two.

LOUISVILLE, KY - DECEMBER 21: Bam Adebayo #3 of the Kentucky Wildcats dunks the ball during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on December 21, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Bam Adebayo (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

5. We need to consider Louisville an ACC title contender: They’ve been terrific defensively all season long. There’s a reason they entered Wednesday night as the No. 1 team in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, and they’re not going to drop after holding the Wildcats before 1.0 points-per-possession. But with the way that their guards played on Wednesday – and the way that trio has been playing of late – maybe they’re not as much of a liability as we thought.

But that’s not the only reason.

Duke is in something close to disarray right now. Grayson Allen is tripping people again, Luke Kennard is telling reporters that the team isn’t about winning and Harry Giles III has yet to get himself into a rhythm. North Carolina looks to be damn good, but there’s nothing about them that says they’re markedly better than Louisville, if at all.

And Louisville has that defense, and man, is that defense good.

Rick Pitino has so many different looks that he uses. Sometimes it’s a man-to-man press. Sometimes it’s a 2-2-1 press. Sometimes they trap in the back court. Sometimes they fall back into a man and sometimes it’s a 2-3 zone. Sometimes that half court defense changes midway through a possession. Sometimes the Cardinals are playing man on one side of the court and zone on the other.

It’s not easy to figure out, and that’s before you factor in the crazy amount of length and athleticism that the Cardinals have up and down their lineup.

This is a good team that seems to be peaking at the right time.