Saturday January 2nd, 2010

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Three thoughts after Kentucky's 71-62 (BOX | RECAP) victory over Louisville here on Saturday at Rupp Arena:

• John Wall knows when its winning time. In what had been his worst game as a collegian to that point, Kentucky's star freshman showed why he's the odds-on favorite for national Player of the Year as soon as Louisville had taken its first lead of the game at 42-41 midway through the second half. First, Wall took back Kentucky's advantage with a sick drive-and-double-clutch basket. Then, he pulled up for a 17-foot jumper in front of Jerry Smith the next time down. And then, Wall triggered a Wildcats steal and fast-break, which he concluded with two bloodless free throws. By the time Wall was done, Louisville's 42-41 lead had turned into a 47-42 deficit, and the Cardinals were done. No wonder Wall was smiling from ear to ear running upcourt. Even when he isn't at his best, he can almost singlehandedly win a game.

• Rick Pitino got a (relatively) tame welcome. Everyone had wondered before the game how the Rupp Arena faithful would welcome former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino after his off-season antics involving an affair with Karen Sypher went public. But the reception was surprisingly tame, not least because arena security was checking (and even confiscating) signs at the door. The only examples I encountered inside the arena was one "Ka-ren Sy-pher!" chant from the upper deck and a couple in the stands who had put Pitino's and Sypher's faces on sticks. In fact, the emotion in this game wasn't to be found with the coaches so much as the players, who drew three technical fouls between them (two by Louisville, one by Kentucky) in the first 45 seconds of a sloppy game.

• Louisville's 2-3 zone worked. If the Cardinals hadn't made only one of their first 19 shots from the field, this would have been an even closer game. Louisville's tough 2-3 zone frustrated Kentucky, which (like John Calipari's teams at Memphis) doesn't have enough dead-eye outside shooters to keep teams from playing zone. If I'm an opposing coach, I don't consider playing anything but zones against Kentucky for the rest of the season.

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