Kentucky 61, Louisville 49
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)—Kentucky coach Tubby Smith keeps his freshmen off limits to the media.
When first-year guard Jodie Meeks finally does get a chance to break his silence, he won’t lack for things to talk about.
Playing with poise while some of his older teammates struggled, Meeks scored a career-high 18 points to lead quickly improving Kentucky to a 61-49 victory over instate rival Louisville on Saturday.
The win was Kentucky’s third straight in the series, and the Wildcats (7-3) did it without major contributions from leading scorers Randolph Morris and Joe Crawford, who combined for just seven points—nearly 24 below their season average. Morris finished with just two points in 15 foul-plagued minutes while Crawford had trouble getting anything going.
“We had to overcome Randolph’s loss and I thought our guys showed a lot of heart and courage,” Smith said.
Particularly Meeks, who scored nine straight points midway through the second half after the Cardinals took a 41-40 lead. He hit consecutive 3-pointers and added three free throws while Kentucky held the Cardinals without a field goal for nearly seven minutes.
“I see (Meeks) every day,” Morris said. “I see what he does in practice. It’s a matter of him being comfortable in a game situation and him producing where everybody else sees what he can do.”
Meeks looked right at home at the center of one of college basketball’s fiercest rivalries, helping the Wildcats finish a brutal stretch that included losses to No. 1 UCLA and No. 3 North Carolina and a win over Indiana.
“It was his best game of the season, what a day to show up,” Louisville forward Terrence Williams said. “He made some tough shots.”
While hard fought, the game showcased just how far one of the nation’s high-profile rivalries has fallen in recent years. There were poor shots, missed layups, turnovers and no sense of rhythm. The teams combined for 25 turnovers, 42 fouls and 84 missed shots.
Louisville came in averaging 77.5 points a game, but struggled to get anything going. The Cardinals shot just 27 percent from the field, including 13 percent (3-for-24) from 3-point range.
David Padgett led Louisville with 16 points and 10 rebounds, but had little help from his teammates despite what coach Rick Pitino called “excellent” execution offensively.
“This is kind of a scary thought, that’s the best we’ve ran our offense this year,” Pitino said. “It’s an obvious thing. We are not a good shooting team. We missed open shots.”
The Cardinals had plenty of opportunities to take control. They led for much of the first half and did a decent job defensively, holding Kentucky to 42 percent shooting.
But when it mattered, it was Meeks and company who made the big plays while Louisville’s freshmen wilted. Freshman center Derrick Caracter was scoreless in eight minutes before fouling out, and the backcourt duo Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith combined for just eight points.
“We’ve got to learn how to make easy shots, the little bank shots, the two-point shots,” Pitino said. “
The Cardinals got within 49-45 on a putback by Andre McGee with 3:59 to play — Louisville’s first basket in nearly seven minutes—but Sheray Thomas hit a jumper to put the Wildcats up by six and Louisville would get no closer.
Louisville, meanwhile, could finish its nonconference season without any wins over a significant opponent. The record is the Cardinals’ worst after nine games under Pitino since he took over the program six years ago. Louisville’s 49 points were the program’s lowest since a 71-46 loss to TCU on Feb. 17, 2004.
“We are not a very good basketball team right now,” Pitino said. “We’ve just got to keep working.”
The Cardinals had hoped a 10-game homestand this month would jump start their season. But halfway through it they’re just 3-2 and have only one win over a team from a major conference before beginning play in the Big East.
“You’ve got to put it behind you,” Williams said. “You’ve got to be men about it and get your confidence back.”
The Wildcats, however, have a chance to build some major momentum over the next two weeks. They play four straight at home before Southeastern Conference play begins.
“I am sure it does (give our players) a lot of confidence,” Smith said. “They need a lot of confidence.”