One of NCAA basketball’s best rivalries did not disappoint in an exciting game last season; let’s take a look at what happened between Kentucky and Louisville.
The NCAA basketball season was cut short by the national pandemic, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t exciting action while games were still being played. We’ll be taking a closer look at the 40 best games of the 2019-20 season, having already taken a look at an exciting conference tournament matchup in yesterday’s piece. Today, our focus is on a highly anticipated rivalry showdown.
39. #19 Kentucky 78, #3 Louisville 70, OT
December 28, 2019, Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY
One of college basketball’s greatest rivalries reconvened right before the New Year began, giving us the anticipation and excitement we all expected. Kentucky held a significant advantage in the rivalry, having won 36 of the first 52 games and each of the last two outings. With both teams ranked and playing solid ball, the highly anticipated rivalry headed to Lexington with both programs needing this win.
Louisville was just a few years removed from Rick Pitino’s exodus from the program and the violations and punishments that followed that scandal. Fortunately, they made a home run hire with former Xavier coach Chris Mack, and in just his second year he had already built the Cardinals into a national title threat again. They entered the game at 11-1, with their only loss coming two weeks earlier against Texas Tech, a game in which they were the #1 team in the nation.
Across the court, Kentucky knew all about losing as #1, still just a month removed from their shocking home upset to Evansville. The Wildcats had been playing better ball in recent weeks but had just dropped a pair of games to Utah and Ohio State in Las Vegas before Christmas. They needed to get their season back on track, falling 13 spots in the polls, and a home date with their bitter rivals was a valuable test for the Wildcats.
Louisville got off to a quick start, though a six-minute scoring drought prevented them from holding their early lead. A back-and-forth battle early, a late spurt gave the Wildcats an 8-point lead at the end of the first half. A 3-pointer from Immanuel Quickley gave Kentucky a 12-point lead early in the second half, but Louisville had fight left in them. The Cardinals responded with a 17-5 run that tied the game with just 10 minutes left.
While Kentucky built their lead back up to 6, this became a hard-fought battle in the final minutes. Tied with 90 seconds left, the two rivals traded points in the final minute, with Lamarr Kimble’s layup with 10 seconds left tying the game. Kentucky had two shots at the end of regulation, but neither Tyrese Maxey nor Keion Brooks Jr. could get the ball in the basket, sending the game to overtime.
Early on, Louisville took a pair of 3-point leads in the overtime period, but their lead was not built to last. The Cardinals tied the game at 70 with a Steven Enoch jumper, but would not score again, as Kentucky hit their free throws late and Louisville couldn’t hit the important long-range jumper to keep them in the game. A late dunk from Ashton Hagans punctuated the victory for the Wildcats, cementing the victory they badly needed.
For Kentucky, this was a huge win that really propelled them into conference play with a lot of confidence. Their 27-point outing from Maxey marked a season-high to that point, while Quickly had 18 points from the bench, playing most of the game. The Wildcats would finish the season with a 15-3 mark in SEC play, winning the conference by three games and establishing themselves as a national title threat, with impressive wins at Texas Tech, Tennessee, and LSU along the way.
On the other side, Louisville got to work in a tough ACC, immediately dropping their next game against Florida State before a long winning streak. Even though Jordan Nwora struggled against the Wildcats, he really established himself as the season progressed. By the end of the season, they were ensconced as the 15th-ranked team in the country and finished 3rd place in the ACC, passed over by a surprise season out of those same Seminoles.
Obviously, neither program got a chance to play their conference tournaments or the NCAA Tournament, but it’s fair to say that both could have caused some major damage in the postseason. While both teams certainly had their struggles throughout the year, it’s feasible that either of these Kentucky teams could’ve caught fire in March.
Louisville fought valiantly in the second half of this game but just couldn’t hit the shot when it mattered most in overtime, leading Kentucky to a very gratifying win.