The Kentucky vs. Louisville rivalry lived up to the hype for another year.
Each side had their share of runs, exciting dunks and strenuous situations. The Cardinals came out on top for the first time in three years, 80-77.
Despite Louisville opening as 7.5 point favorites (per OddsShark), Kentucky stayed in the game throughout. The young Wildcats showed a resiliency that we did not see in previous losses to Notre Dame and Baylor.
However, this game could have been a win. Kentucky missed the freebies, going 11-of-23 from the line. Four more makes from the foul line would have made this an entirely different ball game.
Good was mixed with the bad in the Battle of the Bluegrass on Dec. 29. Louisville's pressure proved to be too much for Kentucky.
Here are my postgame grades for the Wildcats.
All statistics via ESPN.com.
Ryan Harrow played a whopping 39 minutes in this contest.
That statistic alone is enough for optimism for Big Blue Nation.
Harrow played a complete game, scoring 17 points to go with five boards and three assists (and zero turnovers). He also contributed two steals, with one being a nifty pickpocket on Russ Smith that led to an easy layup.
He finished the game with four fouls, something that signifies whistle-happy referees more than poor defense.
Harrow is a score-first point guard, evident in his 15 shot attempts. If and when they start to fall, Kentucky will be a team to watch out for in SEC play.
December hasn't been kind to Julius Mays.
He went 14-of-52 from the floor for the month, resulting in an ugly 26.9 shooting percentage.
The game against Louisville was no different, as Mays contributed just one three-pointer on eight attempts from the field.
Despite not starting in the second half, Mays still played 35 minutes. Kentucky head coach John Calipari still thinks the senior guard can bring stability to his young lineup.
Unfortunately, Mays did not have his usual stabilizing game. He had two turnovers and was clearly flustered at times by the Louisville pressure.
The Louisville game proved why Archie Goodwin is such an enigma.
He scored 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the floor. He's missed just two free throws out of 15 attempts in his last two games. It was his hot shooting that brought Kentucky back into this game.
But he's also turned the ball over five times against Louisville. He threw multiple cross-court passes against the press, resulting in a deflection or a turnover. That cannot happen.
Goodwin is the best scorer on the team. His ability to get past his man is superb.
After that, though, he seems lost. He'll jump in the air before knowing what he'll do with the ball, resulting in an erratic pass or off-balance shot.
He's still played only 12 collegiate games, and a game against a Top Five team shouldn't pad statistics. Goodwin needs to play with more poise moving forward.
Willie Cauley-Stein received a well-deserved start against Louisville. His length was evident from the start, as he blocked two straight Chane Behanan shots three minutes into the game.
Foul trouble limited his minutes, but he was still able to grab eight rebounds (four on offense). He also scored six points.
Where WCS struggled was from the foul line. He had four attempts (five if you count a lane violation) and missed them all.
He's been awful (10-of-28) from the line all year. His shooting percentage from the field (59.7) is nearly 25 points better than his percentage from the line (35.7).
At least he knows where there's one major area of improvement.
Nerlens Noel played a quality game against Louisville. He scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting, missed his only free-throw attempt and grabbed eight rebounds.
Surprisingly, Noel could have received more looks on offense in the second half. He's not known as an offensive stalwart, but he proved he could score against Gorgui Dieng.
The statistics weren't there for Noel, but his presence was felt throughout the game. He played Dieng well, forced bad shots and didn't make many mistakes.
He could, however, do a better job commanding rebounds. Ryan Harrow grabbed five boards, and some were right under Noel's nose.
Is Kyle Wiltjer simply better coming off of the bench?
He scored 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting (all three-point shots) and added two free throws. Three of his makes came in the Wildcats rally in the second half.
But Wiltjer didn't make his mark anywhere else on the court. He had only three rebounds and one foul, somewhat telling of his tentative playing style. He also turned the ball over three times.
What can we expect from Wiltjer moving forward? Was his 12-rebound performance against Lipscomb an anomaly? Can he play and contribute more than 20 minutes per game?
One thing is clear: His shooting slump is over.
As polarizing as Archie Goodwin may be, Alex Poythress is nipping at his heels for the title of "Most Polarizing Wildcat" this season.
Poythress played 15 minutes against Louisville—his lowest total of the year. He started the second half, but not the first. He wasn't in foul trouble.
And yet, John Calipari refused to play him down the stretch. Maybe he's sending a message, or maybe Poythress isn't working hard enough to deserve those minutes.
As you might expect, Poythress had a quiet game in his 15 minutes. He scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds.
And, again, free throws hurt Poythress' final stat line. He went 2-of-6 from the line.
He has the talent. He just needs to play with passion on each possession.
Gone are the days where we see the hometown kid step up on the big stage and make the difference in a game.
Jarrod Polson played two minutes against Louisville. His only statistic was a rebound, although he drew a foul on Russ Smith in the second half.
With Ryan Harrow playing more and more minutes, Polson's role for the Wildcats seems more and more limited.
However, if Julius Mays continues to shoot poorly, Polson may be able to start taking his minutes. He just needs to prove he can provide the poise that Mays brings each game.
As Kentucky's head coach, John Calipari is now 4-1 against Louisville and Rick Pitino.
Calipari coached a strong game. Starting Willie Cauley-Stein over Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer proved to be a success, and he kept his young Wildcats focused, even after being down 17 points in the second half.
To lose by three on the road to the No. 4 team in the country can be seen as positive. But the way the Wildcats lost—namely, from the foul line—is something that can't be pinned on the head coach.
Early in the second half, Calipari received a technical foul. It didn't pay immediate dividends, but it did seem to keep Kentucky focused. Louisville went on a run, but Kentucky bounced right back.
All in all, Calipari did what he could to keep the Wildcats in the game. Clearly, the Kentucky press offense was not as smooth as he would have liked, but the game was still winnable down the stretch.
It wasn't an easy game to watch. It wasn't a clean, smooth or stable performance from the Wildcats.
But that wasn't expected, either. Kentucky was playing just its second true road test of the season, and its performance against Louisville was vastly superior to its game against Notre Dame.
Louisville proved they were the more experienced team. With three of its key starters in foul trouble, Louisville's bench stepped up to help suppress the Kentucky rally.
Most of the Kentucky players came out and played with emotion, something that was not the case against Notre Dame and Baylor. That alone is an improvement that can be built upon in conference play.
If anything, Kentucky proved they can hang with a national championship contender. In March, the Wildcats can look back on this game and see that they have what it takes to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Team Grade: B-