LEXINGTON (AP) — Louisville knew it had frontcourt deficiencies and coach Rick Pitino laid the blame squarely on his inside players after a loss to rival Kentucky.
The sixth-ranked Cardinals (11-2) were outrebounded 44-36, including 17-12 offensively in the 73-66 defeat to No. 18 Kentucky.
The Wildcats also outscored the Cardinals 42-24 in the paint and were able to make the key rebound or pass when they needed it, especially during a second-half run that turned the game for good.
Here’s how bad it was for Louisville: forwards Mangok Mathiang, Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell combined for 15 points and 10 rebounds. That’s two fewer points than Kentucky star freshman forward Julius Randle, who only played four second-half minutes and 21 total because of leg cramps.
The Cardinals not only lost to another ranked team, but their archrival yet.
“Playing a couple of teams this year from the physical standpoint, we are getting outplayed in the three, four and five spots physically,” Pitino said of his frontcourt’s performance. “Never mind the execution-wise, we are just getting taken on the backboard, taken inside and we have to improve in those areas.”
Kentucky (10-3) frequently drove the lane for easy baskets and when it missed there was often a taller, longer Wildcat around for the rebound, resulting in 17 second-chance points. That number didn’t sit well with a team that prides itself on battling on the glass.
“Coach told us the whole week what we had to do from the third four, five spot,” said Blackshear, who fouled out. “We didn’t do what he told us to do. He told us we had to help the other guys rebound. We got to rotate. This whole game was a lot of miscommunication with the defense. We’ve got to get on the same page.”
Kentucky guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison combined for 28 points, including 11 during a critical second-half stretch with Randle sidelined by cramps.
Randle’s 17 first-half points staked Kentucky (10-3) to a 41-36 halftime lead before the 6-foot-9 forward went to the locker room early in the second with leg cramps. He returned but cramped again and spent the rest of the game on the bench.
The Harrison twins amply filled the void, turning a 52-51 deficit with 11:01 remaining into a 68-58 lead with four minutes left. Andrew Harrison and James Young each scored 18 points with Young adding a key 3-pointer during the 17-7 run that helped Kentucky beat its in-state archrival for the fifth time in six meetings.
The Wildcats also earned their first win against a ranked opponent in four tries this season.
Russ Smith scored 19 points but was just 5 of 10 from the foul line for Louisville (11-2), which failed to capitalize after rallying from the halftime hole. Chris Jones added 18 points for the Cardinals, who missed their second chance to beat a top-25 school.
“I started off slow, but that’s not why we lost,” Smith said. “We missed a lot of free throws and rebounds. … I shot free throws for two hours (Friday) and I was making 40, 50 in a row. I couldn’t make any today.”
Other than opening both halves with runs, everything Louisville tried was handled by Kentucky, especially in the clutch.
Their shots and passes were consistently contested by Kentucky’s young, tall players, who held Louisville to 40 percent shooting (23 of 58).
Most importantly, Kentucky earned Bluegrass State bragging rights after a week in which Pitino and Wildcats coach Calipari tried to stress the big-picture perspective. Besides cautioning players about putting too much weight in this game, both coaches also told them to block out the noise leading up to this well-hyped showdown.
Tuning out the noise before 24,396 in Rupp Arena was another story. The standing-room only student section was filled an hour before tipoff and the din only grew louder — just after Louisville took the sea of Kentucky blue out of the game by scoring the first eight points.
Randle answered with five for the Wildcats, including a driving dunk for his first basket that quickly got the crowd excited. That play set the stage for a half in which he muscled his way past a variety of Louisville defenders on 7-of-8 shooting.
Kentucky led 41-36 at halftime, but Louisville was a spurt away from getting back in it. Sure enough, the Cardinals needed just 2:05 to tie it at 43 as Smith scored five points while Mathiang added a putback.
Jones’ three-point play made it 52-51 before Kentucky went on its game-changing run, leaving Louisville to move on to its American Athletic Conference opener at Central Florida on Tuesday.
“There will be some guys that will hang their heads,” Harrell said. “There is nothing you can do about it. … We just need to prepare for our next game.”