The game between Top 5 teams and in-state rivals Louisville and Kentucky was expected to be a high-intensity affair played at a good pace. Well thanks to the "third team" we got the intensity but not the pace, but by the end of the afternoon at Rupp Arena it was clear that Kentucky's 69-62 victory would be long remembered for the play of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Kidd-Gilchrist, who has emerged as the leader of John Calipari's talented squad, stole the show with 24 point and 19 rebounds in leading Kentucky to their 44th straight home victory.
Just over a week ago Kidd-Gilchrist's mother was in the hospital with an unspecified illness, and on Saturday he put forth an outstanding performance with her in attendance. Kentucky has needed a leader to step up within the team and the freshman from Somerdale, New Jersey has been that man in their 13-1 start. Neither team shot the ball particularly well, with Kentucky making just 29.8% of their shots and Louisville not much better at 32.3%. It was a game that had to be won with heart, and that was the difference for the Wildcats despite a valiant 30-point performance from Russ Smith.
"It was a grittiness," said Calipari. "Of all the foul trouble in the first half, the foul trouble really throughout the game and playing guys, I even went with Twany, who I barely played, I thought Kyle Wiltjer was not afraid to play, went out there and did some good stuff. With bad lineups, no point guard, we figured out how to win."
A big problem for Louisville was the play of their starting backcourt, with Peyton Siva and Chris Smith combining for just 15 points on 4-for-23 shooting from the field. Louisville's had issues scoring in the half-court for much of the season, making their points off of turnovers that much more important. The Cardinals could muster just 15 points off of 21 Kentucky turnovers while the Wildcats scored 19 off of 14 Louisville miscues. And when adding to that deficits of 57-31 in rebounds and 20-6 in second-chance points it's not too difficult to see where this game was won (or lost).
The battle of the big men went to Anthony Davis, who posted a double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds) to go with six blocks while Gorgui Dieng finished with five points, five rebounds and six blocks. Obviously Louisville isn't going to run into many teams with the skill level of Kentucky (Syracuse and Connecticut being the exceptions right now), but the half-court offense issue is something that could short-circuit the season for Rick Pitino's team much earlier than expected once the NCAA Tournament rolls around. As for Kentucky while there's plenty to improve upon as they enter SEC play the Wildcats have a special player in Kidd-Gilchrist, one who has impressed with both his skills and leadership abilities. That could take this team a long way.
"He wasn't bothered as much as some of the other players by the physical play," remarked Calipari. "He almost relished it and just went after it, and that's why he played the way he did."
Other Notable Happenings
1. Iowa takes advantage of Wisconsin's three-point shooting to win in Madison.
Going into Saturday's game the Badgers were 78-6 at the Kohl Center under Bo Ryan, so it's understandable if few people gave Fran McCaffery's team much of a chance to win. But the guys in that locker room believed and Aaron White scored 18 points off the bench to lead the Hawkeyes to the 72-65 win. The biggest culprit for the Badgers: three-point shooting. On the season Wisconsin scores 35.8% of their points from beyond the arc, a number that ranks third in the Big Ten behind Northwestern and Michigan. Saturday, Wisconsin shot a miserable 3-for-28 from beyond the arc compared to Iowa's 2-for-6 afternoon. That's the opening that the Hawkeyes needed to pull off the upset, and thanks to reserves White and Bryce Cartwright (17 points, five assists) they were able to capitalize.
2. Creighton bounces back from their loss to Missouri State and wins at Wichita State.
After dropping their MVC opener at home earlier this week, Greg McDermott's Bluejays needed to bounce back at Wichita State to avoid an 0-2 start. Antoine Young led four starters in double figures with 19 points while guard Grant Gibbs may have had the largest impact with his 11 points, six assists and four rebounds in the 68-61 win in Wichita to move both teams to 1-1 in the MVC. The idea of plus/minus in basketball can be a tricky one as there are many variables to consider, but Gibbs finished the night with a plus/minus of +25 and he made many sound decisions throughout his 26 minutes on the floor. Carl Hall was outstanding for the Shockers with 17 points and 13 rebounds but it wasn't enough to knock off the Bluejays. A loss wouldn't have eliminated Creighton from the Missouri Valley race by any means, but it was clear that they needed this road win after dropping one at home. Mission accomplished.
3. Indiana gets it done down the stretch, beating #2 Ohio State in Bloomington.
Highly-ranked teams may want to avoid Assembly Hall, as Ohio State became the second team to go into the building and leave with a loss. All five Indiana players finished in double figures with Jordan Hulls leading the way with 17 points, and the defense of Victor Oladipo (15 points, six rebounds) on Aaron Craft also had a major impact on the Hoosiers' 74-70 victory. Craft finished the game with a season-worst six turnovers in the first game this season that's seen the sophomore finish with more turnovers than assists. The battle between Jared Sullinger (15 points, nine rebounds) and Cody Zeller (14 points, four rebounds) was largely dictated by foul trouble (Zeller would eventually foul out), meaning that other players had to step up. And with William Buford and Deshaun Thomas combining for just 13 points, it was Indiana who won that battle.
4. Gonzaga hits the road and picks up a big non-conference win at Xavier.
Even with an RPI of 17 and a strength of schedule that ranked 21st going into Saturday's action (per realtimerpi.com), Mark Few's team could have used another big non-conference victory from an NCAA Tournament seeding standpoint. And thanks in large part to Sam Dower the Bulldogs did just that, beating Xavier 72-65 at the Cintas Center. Dower scored 20 points and grabbed ten rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench while the Bulldogs' freshman backcourt was solid against one of the best backcourts in the country. Kevin Pangos made just three of his ten shots from the field but he dished out seven assists , and Gary Bell did a solid job defensively on Tu Holloway. The problem for the Musketeers: outside of Holloway, Mark Lyons and Kenny Frease (42 combined points) there wasn't a whole lot of productivity. Xavier also shot 3-for-16 from beyond the arc (24-9 Gonzaga edge in points scored) and was out-rebounded 41-27, which allowed Gonzaga to get away with turning the ball over 17 times (Pangos had five).
5. Harvard comes back from a 12-point deficit to beat Saint Joseph's.
17 seconds into the second half Saint Joseph's took a 50-38 lead on a Halil Kanacevic jumper, and with the 23rd-ranked Crimson playing arguably their worst defense of the season there was a real chance of the Hawks leaving Lavietes Pavilion with a huge win for their resume. But Tommy Amaker's team buckled down, limiting Saint Joseph's to 19 points the rest of the way to come back and win 74-69. SJU shot just 29.8% from the field in the second half while Kyle Casey scored 20 of his 26 points (ten rebounds on the day as well) to lead the charge. Carl Jones led Saint Joseph's with 22 points but that wasn't enough to hold off Harvard, who outscored SJU 22-12 in the paint in the final 20 minutes after the Hawks led that category 20-16 in the first half. With Harvard's remaining schedule consisting of the Ivy League slate and non-conference games against Fordham, Monmouth and George Washington this was a game the Crimson needed for a resume that will take some hits from a computer numbers standpoint between now and March.
1. Billy Donovan's team bounced back from their loss at Rutgers with a 90-70 win over Yale, but that wasn't the only bit of good news for Florida on Saturday. 2013 point guard Kasey Hill tweeted after attending the game that he'd verbally committed to the program, and this is a big get for the Gators given how many players will be out of eligibility by the time 2013 rolls around.
2. Seth Greenberg's Virginia Tech Hokies picked up a needed win on Saturday as they won 67-61 at Oklahoma State. But this was a game that would have more of an impact on their NCAA Tournament resume had they lost, so avoiding that fate was critical. At 11-3, Virginia Tech is in a solid spot ahead of what should be a wild ACC season.
3. Youngstown State handed Cleveland State their first conference loss of the season by the final score of 73-67. Damian Eargle led the Penguins with 20 points and ten rebounds, and while YSU may not be a serious contender in the Horizon League come March they're going to scare some folks.
4. Despite Tyler Lamb scoring a career-high 26 points UCLA fell 85-69 at California to go 0-2 in the Bay Area this weekend. Why? Lazeric Jones made just two of seven shots and he along with Jerime Anderson and Joshua Smith combined to score 12 points on 4-for-15 shooting from the field.
5. With Wisconsin losing to Iowa some the question of who the second-best team is in the Big Ten looks to be wide-open. How about Purdue? The Boilermakers moved to 2-0 in conference play with a 75-60 win over Illinois, and they have the ability to be right there with the likes of Michigan State, Indiana and Wisconsin.
6. The Mountain West picked up a good resume-building victory as New Mexico beat Saint Louis 64-60 at The Pit. Drew Gordon scored 18 points and nine rebounds to lead the Lobos, who have won ten straight games and look like the conference title contender many expected them to be in the preseason.
7. With Creighton's win over Wichita State there's just one team in the MVC with a 2-0 record in conference play. That would be Missouri State, who beat Drake 72-61 at JQH Arena. Kyle Weems followed up his impressive performance at Creighton with 22 points and nine rebounds to lead the Bears past the Bulldogs.
8. Friday night had big news on the injury front as Dayton lost starting big man Josh Benson for the season with a torn ACL. The Flyers were able to overcome his loss to beat Ole Miss 62-50 on Friday but against the better teams in the Atlantic 10 not having Benson could be an issue.
9. Also on Friday Seton Hall bounced back from their blowout loss at Syracuse in a big way, beating West Virginia 67-48 at The Rock. Fuquan Edwin, who leads the nation in steals, led the way offensively with 19 points and Jordan Theodore added 18. With UConn next on the schedule Kevin Willard's team couldn't afford to lose lest they risk an 0-3 start to Big East play, and they got the job done.
Five Notable Performances
1. F Thomas Robinson (Kansas)
30 points (10-14 FG), 21 rebounds and four assists in the Jayhawks' 84-58 win over North Dakota.
2. F Brandon Davies (BYU)
21 points (8-13 FG), 22 rebounds and four assists in the Cougars' 88-52 win over San Diego.
3. F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky)
24 points and 19 rebounds in the Wildcats' 69-62 win over #4 Louisville.
4. F Greg Magnano (Yale)
26 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks in the Bulldogs' 90-70 loss at #10 Florida.
5. F Stan Okoye (VMI)
27 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals in the Keydets' 78-70 overtime win over Presbyterian.