The in-state rival matchup between No. 7 Louisville and No. 14 Kentucky in Rupp Arena Saturday certainly lived up to its standard—the Cards outlasted the Cats 67-66 in a game that went right down to the wire. Kentucky led by as much as 10 at one point, so what went wrong for the Cats? Simple: rebounding and a Louisville 13-0 run in the third quarter.
Heading into halftime, Kentucky spotted a 40-31 lead with much help from sophomore stud Rhyne Howard, who totaled 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting through two quarters. The Cats were lighting it up from beyond the arc, nailing six threes, one of which turned into a four-point play after senior guard Sabrina Haines was fouled on a made attempt. However, the Cats were already losing the rebounding battle 15-10.
“That was a big factor in the game,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “UofL did a really good job on the boards.”
Despite UK junior forward Tatyana Wyatt totaling 10 points in the third quarter after just scoring two in the whole first half, the Cats were still outscored 27-15 in the third. That was due in part to a UofL 13-0 run to close out the quarter, giving it a 58-55 lead going into the final 10 minutes of play.
“You’ve got to score the ball, and that’s something we’ve worked on, we talked about at halftime,” Louisville head coach Jeff Walz said. “We had to execute much better in the third quarter, and we came out and did a great job at that.”
The Cardinals also shut down Howard in the third quarter, limiting her just one field goal attempt and two points from the free throw line.
Louisville was in control much of the fourth quarter, but the Cats weren’t going out without a fight, tying it up twice. A Howard step-back jumper tied it up at 64 with 2:12 to go, but the Cardinals answered with a three-piece to set them ahead. The final points of the game were scored when Haines was fouled attempting a three, making two of her three shots at the line, cutting Louisville’s lead to 67-66.
“It was a good day from the free throw line, but wish we would have made 14-of-15 and we would be a little bit happier right now,” Mitchell said. “But we made 80 percent of our free throws and that’s a good day.”
Kentucky had possession with just over 10 seconds the game, down by one. Haines was heavily defended and gave the ball up to Howard, who missed the last shot and finalized Louisville’s win. Despite not making that last shot, Mitchell is glad it ended up in Howard’s hands.
“You know, if the last shot goes in, I think it was a three, then we win by two,” Mitchell said. “If that happened, we wouldn’t be a whole lot different team. We still got beat on the boards and had a rough third quarter that we know we need to correct. Just perspective is really important for our basketball team.”
Kentucky ended up getting out-rebounded 37-17 and Mitchell says part of that was being undersized.
“That’s been an Achilles Heel for us,” Mitchell said. “We have to do better, we’re not a flawless basketball team and in many games this season we’ll be undersized and that was the case today. I thought we did a more than adequate job on first shot defense today, it was the second shot that really got us.”
Kentucky’s next test will be at California on Dec. 21 at 7 p.m.