There should be no gloating after this game, and not much mourning. There should be, instead, a cease-fire in the constant bickering between Bluegrass basketball fans. Let's call Kentucky's gripping 74-69 NCAA Tournament victory over Louisville what it was: a credit to both teams, to the sport, and to the concept of athletic competition. Then let's all take a deep breath and take inventory of our fingernails. Let the commonwealth rise above its provincial pettiness and bask in its common bond: the highest-level college hoops in America. Two years removed from its most recent national championship, Kentucky dethroned Louisville's defending champions in a game the winners would lead for only 65 seconds and which the losers still were leading with less than 40 seconds to play. It was as good a game as this rancorous rivalry has produced, and it was good enough to move Kentucky's freshman-dominated team into Sunday's Midwest Regional final against Michigan with a Final Four berth at stake. "I told them we probably beat ourselves a little bit down the stretch," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "But how can any of us complain with the run we've been on? We celebrated an awful lot the last three years, and with back-to-back Final Fours and now a Sweet 16." "We try to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. We're going to be very gracious in this defeat because we've had a lot of celebrations and it's the end of an era for us, for a lot of us. So it's something that we're certainly going to miss." If the Wildcats were better Friday night, it was by an ant's eyelash, but they were able to overcome a seven-point deficit in the final 4½ minutes with a lineup diminished by a severe ankle injury to sophomore shot blocker Willie Cauley-Stein. Meanwhile, if Louisville was short on size, badly beaten on the backboards and could not be counted on to sink its free throws, the smaller Cardinals did not shrink from the challenge and pounced on UK's weaknesses like a boxer punching a cut brow. "I told them before the game, 'You're going to get punched in the mouth and you're going to taste blood.' " Kentucky coach John Calipari said. Sure enough, Louisville sprinted to an 18-5 lead that left UK reeling against the ropes. When Cauley-Stein sustained a game-ending injury after playing only four minutes, Louisville attacked the basket no longer defended by the Wildcats' best shot-blocker and ultimately produced 44 points in the paint, many on driving layups and in-the-late floaters. Because Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell picked up a third foul late in the first half and ultimately fouled out with 1:26 to play, the Cardinals' best interior player was unavailable for significant stretches. Yet neither of these personnel issues changed the essential character of a back-and-forth game in which the last lead change occurred on a 3-point shot by Kentucky's Aaron Harrison with 39 seconds remaining. Even at that, Louisville gained possession following a lengthy officiating review with 15.3 seconds to go, closed to within a point on a Wayne Blackshear free throw, subsequently got the ball to Russ Smith for a potential tying 3-pointer and could not be closed out until Harrison sank a pair of clutch free throws with two seconds left. "I came off the ball screen and I automatically looked for Luke (Hancock)," Smith said of his missed three. "And I then I (saw) he was being face-guarded by (Alex) Poythress. I tried to take a 3-pointer to tie it up, and it just missed. Everything went the right way, but Luke was just face-guarded and that was my first option. And I just decided to take the 3-pointer."
Commonwealth has reason to celebrate
Louisville Courier-Journal | Mar 29