LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In an edition of the Kentucky-Louisville basketball rivalry that was different for many reasons, so was the result for the first time since 2016.
Graduate transfer Carlik Jones led the Cardinals with 20 points, while Louisville native David Johnson added 17 points as the Cards beat the Wildcats 62-59 to snap a three-game losing streak in the series. The Bluegrass Sports Commission named the two guards co-Most Valuable Players of the game.
“Not many times that you can not play very well and beat Kentucky, but I thought that’s what happened today," Louisville head coach Chris Mack said. "We didn’t play great and Kentucky had a lot to do with it, they’re really athletic and long. I know that they’re really inexperienced, but we are as well and that’s what it looked like there for a while. Carlik and David, despite making too many mistakes with turnovers, they set the table for our team."
Jones and Johnson were key down the stretch in a tight game where the largest lead was just seven points. The two combined for 20 of Louisville's 34 second-half points, attacking the lane and scoring in the paint.
“It’s the name of the game for our team," Mack said. "We’re not going to face a team – maybe (North) Carolina – that’s as long and as big as Kentucky and really teaches blocking shots. We did, for the most part, a pretty good job of when we got in the lane making good decisions."
"Watching college basketball and to be on the floor playing against Kentucky is one of the dreams of mine," Jones said. "Those clutch moments, those close games, those nail-biters, that's when I thrive. I felt comfortable, I felt confident and we were able to pull out the win."
"Growing up, I loved the intensity of the rivalry," Johnson, a Trinity grad, said. "Last year, I didn't get to play as much. But I kept going, waited a year and we got the win. That was the only thing that we were worried about."
It's the first time Mack has gotten a win over John Calipari and the Wildcats. The 62 points are the fewest in Louisville win over Kentucky since 1916.
"I wanted it for our guys," Mack said. "I felt like last year, our fifth-year seniors and seniors, I thought those guys played extremely hard - we were up three with a minute and a half and gave up an offensive rebound. I felt sick, I felt like we really should have won two in a row, but we didn’t. And that’s sort of how it is in big-time games like this: the magnitude of the game, guys step up and make plays or they don’t."
Kentucky, yet again, finds itself as the team that couldn't come up with those plays when it needs them. The Wildcats are now 1-6 for the first time since the 1926-1927 season and their six-game losing streak is the second-longest in UK history.
"Losing stinks," Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. "We had our chance. We had some breakdowns. When you are this kind of team, you cannot afford to have a mental lapse on two or three plays in a row."
The Cats can't call the look they got to take the lead with six seconds to play a lapse. Similar to the situation where Kentucky lost to Notre Dame, UK was able to get a good mid-range look for Olivier Sarr, whose shot went in, around and out of the basket. BJ Boston would try a three for the tie after two Jones free throws, but Calipari was asked about going to Sarr again for that first shot.
"I told them it is like buzzard luck for my man," Calipari said. "I went to Olivier (Sarr) because I have a lot of faith in him, even though he missed that shot against Notre Dame. I don’t know if you remember, but we went through this with Brandon Knight when we missed all kinds of game-winners where we went at him. I had a lot of faith in him. Eventually, by the end of the year, he made all those."
Big Blue Nation now must continue to live with the longest losing streak for Kentucky since 1989. But Calipari is keeping the faith.
"Now, everybody’s going to say it’s over," Calipari said. "Okay. I don’t believe it’s over. We haven’t played a league game yet. I don’t believe it’s over. Let’s go do what we do. Let’s keep coaching them. Our true fans – the fans that are really with these kids – keep cheering them on. You think they want to play like they’re playing and losing games like this? You’re crazy. They want to win every game, and they want to win it for you. I would tell you – I’m not budging. I’m not cracking. I’m hacked off now. I’m not happy that we’re losing. You guys know me well enough. I have to worry about this team and where they are and where I can take them, more than my ego of winning the game."