No. 1 Kentucky 69, No. 17 Louisville 61
Louisville could have been blown out. Rick Pitino’s coaching
chops and a little bit of hard work made it closer than it probably
should have been.
Relying on grittiness, offensive rebounding and Pitino’s savvy,
Louisville kept state-rival Kentucky within reach before fading in
a 69-61 loss to the Wildcats in the Final Four on Saturday
”We knew we were going to play like starvin’ dogs,” Pitino
Pitino-led teams have always played the us-against-the-world
card and this group needed that kind of attitude against Kentucky’s
stable of future NBA players.
Led by Associated Press Player of the Year Anthony Davis, the
Wildcats (37-2) had an advantage at nearly every position, so the
only way for Louisville to keep up with the Bluegrass racehorses
was to gunk up the works.
The Cardinals did just that, overcoming some early-game jitters
with offensive rebounding and defensive adjustments by Pitino to
twice rally from double-digit deficits. Louisville shot just 35
percent, but had a 19-6 advantage on the offensive glass to keep
Kentucky from running away.
”They offensive rebounded against us better than any team we
played this year,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. ”They never
stopped playing. They got up into our bodies, created turnovers and
gave themselves a chance to win.”’
Even with all that hard work and one of college basketball’s
best in-game coaches pulling the strings, Louisville couldn’t keep
up with the speedy Wildcats for the entire 40 minutes. Top-seeded
Kentucky (37-2) shot 57 percent to reach Monday night’s
championship game against No. 2 seed Kansas.
The fourth-seeded Cardinals managed to slow down Kentucky’s
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who spent the game in foul trouble and
finished with nine points. Davis, however, did pretty much whatever
he wanted, getting 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks.
Peyton Siva had 11 points and Chane Behanan added 10. Gorgui
Dieng had 12 rebounds and four blocked shots for Louisville.
”When everybody really counted us out, we really dug through
and I’m proud of this team,” Siva said. ”Everybody really stuck
together. Nobody ever gave up. We could have easily gave up and
lost by 30, but everybody decided to battle through.”
Pitino pulled off one of his best coaching jobs this season,
taking a program with no true stars into the Final Four for the
first time since 2005. The Cardinals were riddled with injuries and
limped to the finish of the regular season, yet managed to turn it
on at the right time.
With the 59-year-old Pitino calling the shots, Louisville reeled
off four wins in four days at the Big East tournament and played
seemingly a different style in each of its first four NCAA
Even for a coach who led spunky Providence to the 1987 Final
Four, this was impressive.
Pitino needed all his skills against Kentucky, the school he
coached to the 1996 national championship.
Playing with six, maybe more, future NBA players, the Wildcats
were the overwhelming favorite to not just beat Louisville, but to
win the national title.
It didn’t help that the Cardinals seemed overwhelmed by the
take-the-rivalry-to-a-new-level atmosphere of the Final Four.
Out of sorts at the start, Louisville fumbled away passes, put
up shots that didn’t come close to hitting the rim, let Kentucky
seemingly do whatever it wanted on offense.
Siva, Louisville’s catalyst all season, was shaky early,
throwing passes off teammates’ legs and missing both his shots
before sitting the final 7 minutes of the first half after picking
up two fouls.
Dieng was off, too, playing timidly instead of with his usual
aggressiveness. He missed a two-handed dunk on an open drive down
the lane and seemed unprepared whenever the ball came to him.
The rest of the team wasn’t much better, struggling to stop
Kentucky on defense or to get anything to fall from anywhere.
”Just jitters,” Siva said.
Yet, with all those struggles, the Cardinals kept finding a way
to keep it close.
Down 10 in the first half, they chipped it to three late. Their
deficit up to 13 early in the second half, they tied it 49-all on
Siva’s 3-pointer with 9 minutes left.
Pitino was a big part of it, using on-the-fly adjustments and
in-huddle encouragement to help the Cardinals keep up with what is
generally considered the most talented team in college
When Dieng struggled early, his coach sat knee-to-knee with him
in what appeared to be a keep-your-head-up moment in the first
half. He took a similar tactic with Siva and both played better in
the second half, making key plays to get the Cardinals back in
When Kentucky made a run in the second half, Pitino called for
the Cardinals to extend their pressure, creating turnovers that
allowed them to fight back. He also had them switching defenses on
nearly every trip – man one possession, zone another – to keep the
Wildcats off balance.
”It was a great game plan to throw us off, just mixing it up,
playing man and zone,” Kentucky’s Terrence Jones said. ”We didn’t
know what they were doing because they kept switching it on
Louisville just ran out of steam and scheme.
Kentucky stretched the lead in the closing minutes and Davis
finished it off with an emphatic dunk, sending the Cardinals back
to the Bluegrass state two wins short of their goal.
”When I compared them a few weeks ago to the `87 Providence
team, it was in terms of effort and attitude,” Pitino said of his
Cardinals. ”They made me really, really proud. They battled a
great team tonight. We just needed a lot of things to go right down