Dec. 18, 2004
The electricity and enthusiasm in Freedom Hall was absolutely incredible Saturday afternoon. In the end, Kentucky got a great win and Louisville had a heartbreaking loss.
Tubby Smith deserves a lot of credit. His team was down 16 points at halftime yet never gave up. The Wildcats turned on the defense, battling and scrapping, looking like a different team after intermission.
Kentucky shut down Francisco Garcia and really locked up the Cardinals. The Wildcats were also helped by the absence of injured diaper dandy Juan Palacios. The Wildcats' defense has been a trademark of the program under Smith, and it came up big once again.
Kentucky shut down Francisco Garcia and really locked up the Cardinals.
It was quite a show for Patrick Sparks, the transfer from Western Kentucky. Remember, he was not originally recruited by Louisville or Kentucky, but he joined Big Blue after coach Dennis Felton left the Hilltoppers for Georgia.
Sparks is one of the true impact All-Marco Polo players and he hit so many big shots. On Kentucky's final possession, I felt he would end up with the ball after making the inbounds pass. Sure enough, he drew a three-shot foul in the final second and showed why he is Mr. Clutch by sinking all three attempts.
I was also impressed with veteran Kentucky forward Chuck Hayes. He is so unselfish and makes the big play by creating opportunities even when he isn't scoring. He can draw defenders to him and then kick the ball out to the perimeter for open looks. Hayes is one of the better interior passers in America.
This was a really tough one for Rick Pitino and his Cardinals considering the way they dominated in the first half. Louisville was trying to beat Kentucky for the third straight time, something that has never happened before. Taquan Dean hit a couple big 3s down the stretch, but Sparks came through with the key play in the end.
What an amazing environment at Freedom Hall. Great coaches like Denny Crum and Joe B. Hall were in attendance. It was a sea of red and blue everywhere. This rivalry is among the best in the nation, right up there with Duke-North Carolina.
This has to give Kentucky a boost of confidence. Smith had his veterans in down the stretch and they kept their cool. The Wildcats will get better and better and I feel they will dominate in the SEC.
Pitino will get his team together and they should be one of the top teams in Conference USA.
It was a great game, what college basketball is all about with the intensity and passion. The fantastic finish went the way of the Wildcats. What a thrill to be courtside to call a great game like that, baby!
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.