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Saturday, December 31, 2011
Rapid Reaction: Kentucky 69, Louisville 62

By Eamonn Brennan

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- A quick overview of Kentucky's 69-62 win against Louisville on Saturday afternoon:

Overview: The term "slugfest" is one of sports parlance's most overused, but in this case, it applies. This was an ugly, hard-fought, foul-ridden game, with both sides scrapping and clawing for every rebound, turnover and loose ball. The offense was ugly: With six minutes left in the second half, both teams had to that point posted identical 15-of-51 field goal shooting marks. Kentucky finished 17-of-57 from the field. Louisville finished 20-of-62. See? Ugly. According to ESPN researcher Jason McCallum). , UK became the first team in the last 15 years to beat a top-5 opponent while shooting under 30 percent.

The difference? The Wildcats just had too much -- too much size, too much length, too much speed -- which they used to corral the key rebounds and get to the free throw line time after time after time. Louisville, for all its defensive efforts, couldn't quite match up. Kentucky held the lead for most of the afternoon, but Louisville made a comeback with 13 minutes left to tie the game at 40. Kentucky seized the advantage soon thereafter, though, and the Cardinals would never come close to overtaking the advantage again.

In the meantime, this raucous home crowd buoyed an energetic second-half performance. All in all, it was another great installment in this heated, hate-filled rivalry, and the maniacs in Rupp Arena had a lot to do with that.

Star of the game: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 24 points and 19 rebounds, but even those numbers -- crazy as they are -- don't measure the full weight of his impact on the game. Kidd-Gilchrist made every big play -- or at least it felt like he did -- whether he was crashing, launching shots from range, attacking the rim on the break, chasing down loose balls or grabbing and finishing offensive rebounds. He did the latter with 3:38 remaining in the game, grabbing a stray offensive board, collecting himself under the rim, and finishing up and through contact and a foul. The play gave Kentucky an 11-point lead, and the Cardinals couldn't recover. Also worth noting: Fellow freshman Anthony Davis was huge in the second half and finished with 18 points, 10 boards and 6 blocks. And Russ Smith was all over the place for Louisville, totaling nearly half (30) of the Cards' point total.

Stat of the game: Kentucky finished with a 49.8 percent offensive rebounding rate, an insanely high mark. On such a mutually poor shooting night, those second opportunities gave the Wildcats a serious edge. Likewise, Kentucky's free throw rate -- its ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts -- rarely sank below 60 percent all game. Both stats are the product of length, size and sheer physical ability. The Wildcats didn't have it going on offense, and they weren't particularly sharp with the ball, but they powered their way to a hard-fought win all the same.

What's next (besides another year of Kentucky fans owning the bragging rights in this series, that is): Louisville will have to recover quickly, as its second Big East game on Jan. 3 sees the Cardinals travel to St. John's, and it could be at risk of a three-game losing streak if it suffers a letdown there. Meanwhile, Kentucky gets a bit of a break. Its next game comes Jan. 3 at Freedom Hall versus Arkansas Little-Rock, and SEC play begins with a favorable home date versus South Carolina.