The University of Louisville basketball team fell behind 18-4 to start the game and could never recover.
The Cardinals had several mini-runs against No. 19 Kentucky on Saturday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., but in the end, the Wildcats dominated on the backboards, forced 15 turnovers, and cruised to an 86-63 victory in the Battle of the Bluegrass.
Kentucky outrebounded Louisville 33-2 and finished with 15 offensive rebounds that led to 20 second-chance points.
El Ellis led the Cardinals with 23 points and two assists in 36 minutes, hitting 7 of 16 from the field and 8 of 10 free throws. Ellis played 36 minutes in the game and had a season-low two turnovers for the Cardinals.
Brandon Huntley-Hatfield added 10 points and four rebounds, while Kamari Lands had nine points and three rebounds and Mike James had eight points and two boards.
Louisville was 22 of 47 (46.8 percent) from the field but hit just 2 of 13 three-point field goals and the Cardinals had just five assists on the 22 made field goals. Louisville was 17 of 23 from the free-throw line and had seven steals. The only stats that Louisville held an advantage was bench points (12-7) and fastbreak points (8-2).
The rest was all UK. Jacob Toppin led the Wildcats with 24 points and seven rebounds, while Oscar Tshiebwe had 24 points and 14 rebounds.
UK has now won 12 of the past 15 meetings between the two programs but it was the first win for the Wildcats in the series since 2019. The two teams didn’t play last season for the first time since 1982 when there were COVID issues within the Louisville program.
The loss is the third in a row for Louisville, which finished the non-conference portion of the season with a 2-12 record. The Cardinals are 0-2 in the ACC and will be back in action on Tuesday night at the KFC Yum Center against Syracuse.
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Louisville had some mini-runs in the game.
But it was a terrible start for the Cardinals, who fell behind 18-4 in less than six minutes.
Chris Livingston hit a three-pointer on Kentucky’s first possession and then Brandon Huntley-Hatfield made it 3-2 with a short jumper.
Uk then reeled off nine straight points to take control.
Cason Wallace started the run with a three-pointer, followed by two Jacob Toppin with two buckets and Oscar Tshiebwe made it 12-2 with a putback. El Ellis scored for Louisville but Toppin hit a jumper, Wallace had a putback and Tshiebwe made it 18-4.
Louisville was 2-for-7 from the field and had three turnovers during that 18-4 run.
Louisville has struggled on the glass all season and this was another game where it hurt the Cardinals.
Kentucky finished with 33 rebounds, including 15 on the offensive glass. UK outscored the Cardinals 20-12 in second-chance points.
The Cardinals did have eight offensive rebounds of their own but managed just 20 total rebounds.
Oscar Tshiebwe led UK with 14 rebounds, while Brandon Huntley-Hatfield led U of L with just four.
The Cardinals have now been outrebounded in 10 games this season.
Louisville opened the second half with a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 45-37.
But the Cardinals then turned it over five of the next eight trips down the floor and Kentucky surged ahead.
UK scored six straight points to make it 51-37 and after a Kamari Lands bucket the Wildcats had another 6-0 run to make it 56-39.
Louisville never got closer than 14 the rest of the way.
U of L coach Kenny Payne:
“First of all, I think there were segments in the game where we did some good things. We came into the game–for the last three or four days–talking about what a rivalry is. In this profession, as coaches, you [usually] don’t want the pressure on your players. I do. I want these young men to know that this state and these two programs represent something and there is a pride in wearing that jersey. So, I didn’t avoid it. I wanted them to know that we were playing a team that is one of the best in the country. I don’t care what the critics say. I’ve watched them play, I know the coach, I know who the coach is, and I know who the players are. They are one of the best teams in the country. It may not look pretty at times, but when you are playing a team like that, the number one thing that jumps off is the physicality and toughness of the game- the fight that you have to win a game—and the rebounding. They scored 20 points off of offensive rebounds and scored 19 points off our turnovers. You can’t win when a team is as big, strong, and defensive-minded as they are. You have to match their intensity and it’s the reason why Kentucky is Kentucky. It’s the top of the hill because they impose their will on you and that’s what they did today.”
Louisville now comes home for a pair of games next week.
The rest of the games this season will be ACC games with Syracuse opening up the new year with a visit to the KFC Yum Center on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
The Cardinals will then host Wake Forest next Saturday at 3 p.m.
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