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Cal lets his bench have it during the loss to Louisville Saturday. (Clay Jackson photo)

Cal lets his bench have it during the loss to Louisville Saturday. (Clay Jackson photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

LOUISVILLE — It’s not often that coaches John Calipari and Rick Pitino are going to agree on anything.

But guess what? After Louisville’s 80-77 victory over Kentucky here Saturday, they agree on not one thing, but two things.

First, both agree that No. 3 Louisville has a chance to be a special team despite squandering most of a 51-34 lead early in the second half against unranked UK.

“Hats off to them. What a good team they are,” said Calipari. “They play hard, play aggressive, play rough. Size, guard play is outstanding. There may be a better team in the country, but I’ve got to see them. When you have guard play like they have and size and toughness, this is an outstanding team.”

Pitino wouldn’t disagree in an unusual show of brotherly love between the two long-time rivals.

“I think we are playing great because we have a great backcourt,” Pitino said. “I think it is one of the premier backcourts in the country.”

Seniors Peyton Siva (19 points) and Russ Smith (21 points, three assists, three steals) are that good because they can win a game on offense or defense. And they have experienced players with size and toughness around them.

Calipari said Friday he felt Louisville was the “odds on favorite” to win the national title and certainly he saw nothing Saturday to change that opinion.

“I think he truly has respect for us. I think he likes our team,” Pitino said.

Last year Pitino got Louisville to the Final Four — where the Cards lost to UK — mainly with defense. This team has more offense and eight or nine players that can all play equally well.

But the coaches also agreed that this was a much better Kentucky team than the one that lost earlier this season to Notre Dame and Baylor.

“They are going to be an excellent basketball team,” Pitino said. “They are going to be better and better. John is the right guy to get them … he is a helluva coach.”

Pitino said while the Cards can’t match the NBA draft numbers that UK has had, this year he actually felt he had the more talented team because of Louisville’s experience.

“They will be a great team in February,” Pitino said. “I marvel at what he does with  young players. Two weeks ago, quite frankly I did not think they were a very good team. Now they are a helluva team. We did a great job on their bigs. We shot 48 percent against a good defensive team.”

So why is Kentucky better than just a couple of weeks ago?

“I just saw better passing, better execution. I think they were in better shape,” Pitino said. “It takes a certain skill to coach young guys. It’s very difficult to do with a new group all the time. He (Calipari) does it better than all of us could do. I wouldn’t want to do it, but he does it better than everybody.”

Kentucky had 15 turnovers against Louisville’s pressure that turned into 19 points. But the Cats compensated with 14 points off nine Louisville turnovers. Kentucky outrebounded the more experienced, more physical Cardinals 39-36. UK shot 58.1 percent (18-for-31) the second half.

Point guard Ryan Harrow had his best game at Kentucky — 17 points (6-for-15 shooting), five rebounds, three assists, two steals and no turnovers in 39 minutes. Kyle Wiltjer showed those who thought he couldn’t be a factor in a game like this what he could do with 14 points (4-for-7 on 3-pointers) and three rebounds in only 19 minutes. Surprise starter Willie Cauley-Stein had six points, eight rebounds and three blocks. The only thing he couldn’t do was make free throws (0-for-4) but his hustle and intensity helped UK immensely.

Archie Goodwin was sporadic but had 22 points on 8-for-15 shooting and has the same kind of fearlessness that John Wall and Brandon Knight had. He made five turnovers, but he’s not afraid to try and make a play and Calipari said he’s getting better. Nerlens Noel had eight points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals in his normal stat-stuffing game.

Kentucky continue to struggle to get production from Alex Poythress (seven points, five rebounds) and Julius Mays (1-for-8 shooting).

While there’s no way Calipari likes losing to any team, but especially Louisville, he complimented his team for the way it played after getting down 51-34.

“We did get better. Ryan is better. Archie is still turning the ball over and is a little out of control at times, but he is still making plays,” Calipari said. “We are not getting any production out of Julius and Alex, but we are hanging in.  Willies was good. I thought he did a terrific job. Nerlens broke down a couple times. Ryan, he did great. I grabbed him afterward and told him that is where I wanted him at the beginning of the year. Now where do we go from here?”

That’s the big question for both teams. Louisville could well be headed to another Final Four with this defense and better offense. But UK showed it’s too early to write off this season even if the Cats will go into Southeastern Conference play unranked. Kentucky finally took a punch and fought back. It hung with a physial team on the road.

The Cats won’t play a team this good the rest of the regular season and if they can play the way they did the final 15 minutes the rest of the season, this loss at Louisville could turn out to be a season-saving event for the Cats — and probably both Calipari and Pitino would agree on that, too.

36 Responses to Calipari and Pitino agree that Kentucky is improving dramatically

  • Jim Boyers says:

    Did everyone feel that dizzying little sensation during this game?

    That was this UK team rounding the proverbial corner at a breakneck rate of speed.

    This game could only have been more encouraging if they had won. So many, many great things were shown by this team. True, there were too many mistakes and missed free throws to overcome, but they are a mere bump in the road and will be ironed out in a short amount of time.

    And UK certainly wasn’t helped by the sporadic officiating. A touch foul called one second and a player thrown to the floor, without a call, the next. These refs were a joke. But I don’t blame the loss on them. They were a minor player in the defeat. The real culprit was the missed foul shots and some of the poor passes in the last few minutes, leading to breakaway dunks.

    All respect to UL. They are a tough, hard- nosed, veteran team and really laid into UK on defense. They also had the best offensive game they have probably had all year. UK did well though and truly won’t face a better defense the rest of the season, unless these two meet again in the tourney.

    This game really bodes well for UK in the SEC. If you weren’t encouraged by and proud of what you saw, then you need to hang up your UK gear and not bother being a fan. This was a great game for these young men and showed that they are going to be just fine by the time March rolls around.

  • Bill says:

    Well said Jim.

  • Larry Pup says:

    For all the UK fans who were whinning and saying “woe is me” before this game should hang your heads. UK should have one this game. The officiating was as poor as I’ve ever seen. It looked like a football game without pads. Our freshmen boys took all Lousiville dished out, and gave some back. They could have won it on the free throw line easily. I can’t stand Louisville. I hope UK gets another shot at this bunch later on a neutral court. Say what you want, we better hope Cal stays around for a long long time. There is none better. He took the blame for this loss too. UK is going to be hard to beat. Hide and watch.

    • Larry Pup says:

      With that said, Louisville owns us now. Beat us on the gridiron and now this. This to me has become a bigger rival than UT. I don’t understand how any UK fan can ever pull for Louisville against anybody. There can only be one rooster in the barn yard. Right now they have our number and I don’t like it. I know we are talking basketball, but remember we got this sorry bunch of red birds coming to CWS in 2013. I hope we kill em! By the way, Louisiville is finally going to lineup against a football team come Jan. 2. They will get a taste of SEC football. GO GATORS!!

      • It takes at least 10 regular Season Wins, in a row, to equal Louisville’s loss to Kentucky in the Final Four…” Louisville does not own us, it’s 4 to 1 with Coach Cal and a Final Four. I’ll start counting Football with the Stoops Era…lol

        • Larry Pup says:

          I agree with you Larrty T the final four win over Louisville blistered them good. But in the recent year or two they have beaten UK twice in football and now this basketball defeat. They even beat our great baseball team last season. I can’t stand em. What I’m saying Larry is the Louisville fans are getting real cocky again. Kind of like the Brian Brohm era when we couldn’t buy a win. I’m hoping we meet them again come March. As for the Stoops era I am very encouraged too. I also agree with you that Cal’s record againt them speaks for itself. I just hate to lose to that sorry bunch.

      • Anonymous says:

        They got a taste of SEC football. Said it tasted like chicken.

        • Larry Pup says:

          I give the red birds credit. They beat Florida’s brains out. They should have scored close to 50 points. Florida let me down. However it was sort of refreshing to see a Florida football team get a taste of their own medicine. UofL did somthing UK has not done in 26 years. That is hard to swallow. I still hate em!

          • Nice that you gave U of L recognition…Biggest Game in the history of U of L Football…That Win should rank them # 4 in the National Poll….3 of the top 5 will lose, now that # 3 (Florida) was defeated….1 plays 2 and 4 plays 5.

      • Kokamo Joe says:

        Re: one rooster in the barn…don’t understand how a UK fan can pull for UL etc.

        Different strokes for different folks Pup. Joe Hall and Denny Crum seem to do it. Both Pitino and Calipari claim to pull for the other when they don’t play them. Whenever We play UL in anything…basketball, football, baseball, women sports, I want to win. But sometimes some of the fans on both sides take it way too far…like the UL fan who told me that he hoped that UK got a player hurt before the UK-UL game, or the UK fan who told me before the UK-UL basketball game two years ago that he was glad that Buckles got hurt a day before the game.

        And, by the way it looks like the Cards got a taste of the Gators and liked it. Why would a UK fan be pleased that the Cards dismantled Florida. Simple we play them next year. Beat the Cards next year and the win will really mean something.

        • Larry Pup says:

          Joe if you want to pull for them, have at it. Now, I never wish for any athlete to get hurt no matter what team he plays for, but I only pull and root for the Cats. UofL has a great football team, but I don’t like em! There are many of us out here who can’t stand Louisville. And you’re never going to change our minds.

          • Kokamo Joe says:

            Note that I posted “different strokes for different folks.”

            I just want to state that not all people “can’t stand” UL or UK depending on which school they support. Others watch hoping that the team that they “can’t stand” loses. I would not agree that either approach describes either a bad or a good fan.

            I must say that watching that football game last night, especially since I had the SEC thing firmly in my mind, caused me to wonder how any body could be opposed to a team that was such an underdog, and more important than that is this: it has been what 26 years since we have beaten Florida. I liked to them take a beating and in onder for them to lose I had to pull for the Cards….Like I say…different strokes…

          • Larry Pup says:

            By the way, I do have great respect and admiration for coach Strong. He is one great football coach. I would count it an honor to shake his hand. His loyalty to UofL is commendable in this day and age. He is the type of coach I would want my son to play for, and he has put Louisville on everybody’s radar. With that said, and as a die hard UK football fan, I can’t stand it. I hope coach Stoops can change all that in due time. I hope we kill em!

    • Larry Pup says:

      I can spell “won” not “one” in my second sentence above. My brain gets ahead of my hands. Anyone else ever have that problem. It comes with old age.

      • Larry Pup says:

        Joe.. UK is the flagship school in Kentucky not Louisville. UK is the one with KENTUCKY written across our jersey. The way I see it, the more success Louisville has only dininishes UK’s standing among many football athletes in this state and other states who are considering a school to choose to play football at. All you have to do is look at James Qiuick from Trinity as an example. We are supposed to be top dog in this state not Louisville. If you don’t think Louisville’s success hurts UK in recruiting you are kidding yourself. Strong has a pipeline into Florida. Look at all the athletes from that state on the Louisville roster. They won the Sugar because they had better athletes than Florida. It was quite obvious to me. They will be heavily favored to beat our brains out next year at CWS with Bridgewater under center, and you tell me you are going to root for them on occasion. I just don’t buy into that mind set.

        • larryvaught says:

          Great to see Louisville win, but no doubt the stronger the Cards get in football, the more it hurts UK. And will be the same with Western now with Petrino. More competition for in-state talent than ever before

        • Kokamo JOe says:

          For over 60 years UK has been a SEC dormat. Coaches come and coaches go and each time that happens enough interest sparks to generate seats in CWS.
          As UL and WKU improve more pressure is put on UK to really push football. That is very good. If UL and WKU can stimulate UK into really taking football to the next level our “flagship” status will demand that we get most of the attention and the state’s top recruits. In other words, they can shame us into excellece.

          Recruits like Quick will come to UK when the program demonstrates that it is a winner. That is our challenge. I have high hope just as I have had with each new hire since the Bear. But first UK must prove that they are willing to compete HEAD TO HEAD with UL in order to earn those recruits.

          So go for it Charlie Strong and Bobby Petrino. Set the state bar high. Get with it UK. Ride these new coaches to new heights and Barnhart…..put UK football right up there with basketball. If that happens; watch out UL and WKU..you may be eating dust.

  • Great Read Larry ! ” Kentucky finally took a punch and Fought Back ” ! Exactly, and WCS, had a coming out Party…

  • Walter says:

    That was a fantastic game. There was tremendous improvement in our players and they will continue to improve for the rest of the season. I am excited.

  • TheProfessor says:

    This team is improving, and WCS is leading that charge, but man-o-man, he needs to work on his form from the charity stripe.

  • grant says:

    I was proud of the way Uk played . They certainly out did anything I expected. I have been a non believer with this current Uk team and i feel like a fool. I loved the tenacity and toughness they showed in not capitulating under the pressure. They can really build off this. Once again could not be prouder. Iam not one for moral victories , however if there is such a thing this game had all the markings of one. I will be interested to see how they come back in the next game. If there is not an emotional let down they will have turned the corner.

  • cmpop77 says:

    Half of these comments are the reason why nearly all people who move to our great state dont like Uk fans. Congratulations, keep feeding your stereotype.

    • Larry Pup says:

      Hey cmpop77 you don’t like this blog or what’s said, then go find someplace else to pop off with your opinion. Your on the wrong blog my friend. As for UK, we are not hurting for fans, never will be. You must get around to know all people who move to Kentucky. You sound sort of full of yourself to me. Oh I know you are probably a Louisville fan down deep.

    • UKFAN197TONE says:

      Nonsense. They just meet the wrong class of UK fans.

    • Kokamo Joe says:

      There are people on both sides of the rivalry who go way overboard. The embarass their school and the state of Kentucky. Most fans are not like that. Many fans enjoy supporting both unless they play each other. Many fans enjoy pulling for their team and against the other. Both are fine. But the haters are out of bounds.

      • Larry Pup says:

        Joe..a rivalry is just that. I don’t like Lousiville and never have since I was a kid, and I was raised in Louisville. I pull for everybody they play against. If I’m an embarassment to the state then so be it. If you know anything about rivalry’s it’s just that way. Look at Auburn vs Alabama. Go down there and talk to those people. They hate each other. I would not call it literal hatred, or malicious hatred, but you are either Auburn or Alabama, no middle ground, from little kids on up. I lived in Florida for 20 years, true Florida fans hate the ground Georgia walks on, and are not real fond of FSU either. Louisville has our number right now, back to back wins in football, and a basketball victory. Their victory last night in the Sugar over SEC power Florida means UK will have their hands full when UofL comes to CWS in 2013. A blind man could see it. If you want to root for Louisville against other opponents, that is your business, but don’t call people like me an embarrassment if we don’t. If you think most Louisville fans pull for UK against other opponents, you are kidding yourself. They relish beating UK, and seeing us fall. I know em, I lived there for years My goodness, just read the C-J. Tell me you like and pull for TENNESSEE when they are not playing UK. People like me just ride for the brand. It is a sports thing, not literal hatred. Louisville has a great football team, no doubt about that. I respect their team. but I don’t like em. Never have and never will.

        • Kokamo Joe says:

          Pup: I did not intend to indicate that you were an embarassment to the state of Kentucky. As I indicated the people that I am refering are the far out people … the type that hate so bad that they wish that the other side has injuries…or label the kids who play on the other team as thugs….or claim that the other school is an academic disaster…or harp on and on about a stupid mistake by the coach on the other side …or claim that the other coach cheats…You want one to win when they don’t play your school? Fine with me. You want one to lose every game? Fine with me.

          Several years the CJ ran a poll and the results indicated that there were really more people who pulled for the other unless they were playing their own than the other way around. I don’t know if such a poll was accurate, but I can tell you that there are plenty on both sides of the fence. And, I repeat..unless they are lying coaches Hall, Crum, Calipari and Pitino claim to be in the bunch that may not love the other team, but realize that the better one does, the better it is for the other.

          • Larry Pup says:

            I know you didn’t Joe. What I’m trying to say is the better Louisville does in football, the more it hurts UK from strictly a football recruiting standpoint. That is why I don’t want them to over achieve at the expense of UK. Kids today want to play for a winner. In basketball, I know Cal’s record speaks for itself against Louisville. He is also a recruiting machine. But in football, and I’m more of a football fan than a basketball fan, Louisville is kicking our ass and everybody elses too, and I’m supposed to like that and support UofL when they are not playing UK because Joe Hall and Denny Crum have a love in. Come on. Hall and Cal don’t coach football. It’s different from a UK football fan’s point of view who has watched UK struggle for 50 years now. I Just don’t think down deep true blue UK fans feel that way. I don’t care what the C-J poll said. I can’t stand that rag of a pape either, but That’s another topic for later. I love to read your stuff.

  • cmpop77 says:

    Always a louisville fan down deep are what you guys always say. Like UL fans are the greatest example of evil lol. You just made your stereotype even fatter….my friend.

  • cmpop77 says:

    Eggs. Love em.

  • Wayne says:

    Hey! This group of CATS is going to rain down Fire and Fear on all future teams, they play… Go BBN.

  • Larry Pup says:

    Yeah Larry T, I gave UofL recognition, but I want it to be the biggest game in UK football history, not Uof L’s. I don’t get to excited about their team winning. I’m envious. I don’t understand you guys that are so happy about UofL’s success. It does absolutely nothing for UK or our football team or fortunes. The hell with UofL. Does anybody out there see it my way? Hey! I’m glad the cowboys beat the Indians, I’m glad we beat the British for our Independence. I want UK to win, not UofL. Am I the only one out there who feels this way. I’m for UK period the end.

  • LP, you know I bleed blue…but, I’m from Louisville and grew up with Darrel Griffith (Dr.Dunkenstien), I always admired Denny Crum…my 10 year old nephew was a Ball Boy for Coach Crum and grew up to be a 4 year Manager for Coach Pitino @ U of L, he has a Final Four Ring, he and the Team earned it. I have always been for The State Of Kentucky and Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali is my Idol (since I was 8 years old). Kentucky Basketball is Historic and our little Brother (Louisville Cardinals), pulled a little John Wooden lineage with the Denny Crum hire…IMO, you just have to admire both these programs. As Coach John Wooden once stated, ” You don’t have to like me, but respect what I achieve “…It’s hard IMO, not to Respect both Programs, even if you dislike one or the other. Fortunately, for me, I have many reasons to Like U of L , but, I LOVE MY WILDCATS ! I Love your post also Larry Pup, Happy New Year .

  • Larry Pup says:

    Larry T..you are the exception to my rule I do believe. What can I say? I also grew up in Louisville. Old southend boy, Male High grad. I never liked UofL, not one little bit. Many of my friends went to UK on football scholarships during the Bradshaw era.. But I understand your position and I can appreciate what UofL football has achieved. But Larry if they keep rising higher and higher in football prowess it is going to hurt UK. Mark it down. You have blood kin in the mix. I don’t. I can’t stand them. I hope we beat them in everything but especially in football.

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