Yes, Kentucky lost 80-77 to its rival Louisville on Saturday. But, it was exactly the game the Wildcats needed.
In fact, I'd go as far as to say Kentucky didn't lose, but rather handed the game to the Cardinals.
Even further, Kentucky is now the favorite to win the SEC this year. Despite it being a down year for Kentucky and John Calipari.
After falling down by 17 points early in the second half, Kentucky was able to make a run and cut the lead down to as slim as two points. This was due to two players specifically: Kyle Wiltjer and Ryan Harrow.
Harrow committed zero turnovers in 39 minutes of play and, more importantly, solidified the point guard position. The North Carolina State transfer looked like a cool veteran in Calipari's system as he directed traffic on the offensive side and attacked the rim when needed.
He made sure to distribute the ball as well, as he racked up three assists along with 17 points on 6-of-15 shooting from the field. Most importantly, he was the calm player on the floor when the Wildcats needed it the most. With Louisville pressing and causing four turnovers to start the second half, Harrow made sure to get the ball in the backcourt in order to beat the press.
Harrow was also able to do this without the help of any of his backcourt teammates. Sure, Archie Goodwin had 22 points, but most of that came in a five-minute stretch. Other than that, he was a walking turnover who forced bad plays, while Julius Mays was nowhere to be found.
This was also the game for Wiltjer that Big Blue Nation was looking for. Wiltjer only played 19 minutes but scored 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting from behind the arc and helped spark the run to cut it two. Wiltjer seemed to come into his own while providing a shooting spark for Kentucky and may have found a home coming off the bench for the Wildcats.
Despite the 14 turnovers and an 11-of-23 night from the free-throw line, the Wildcats showed heart and, more importantly, defined their identity going forward. They started playing team defense with help-side defense and team rebounding—in fact, they outrebounded Louisville by three.
Once Kentucky settled down—and gave the ball to Ryan Harrow—Kentucky looked fluid on offense. The Cats began getting the ball in the post to Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein, and looking for the cross-court rotation for the open shot for Goodwin, Mays and Wiltjer.
This was also the first game Kentucky looked like a team. The Wildcats looked like a veteran team for the first time this season and showed the resiliency that has lacked in their three other losses this year. It even looked like it was the first time Kentucky listened to Calipari during the game.
This is what I believe is the 2012-13 Kentucky team. This is the team to beat in the SEC. I also believe they put the rest of the conference and possibly the country on notice as they played Louisville to a three-point loss at the Yum! Center without any help from some of their top players.
The only thing left to answer is: Can Kentucky be consistent?
We'll find out in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime Big Blue Nation, enjoy this season. They turned the corner.
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