Sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis scored 21 points and dished out eight assists, senior forward Alex Poythress recorded 14 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots, and junior guard Dominique Hawkins came off the bench to score a career-high 13 points in the Wildcats' thrilling 75-73 win over Louisville at Rupp Arena.
Hawkins was the day's biggest surprise, helping fill the void left when freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe suffered a sprained ankle in pregame warm-ups and was unable to play.
Briscoe was averaging 11.5 points per game as a starter and was one of Kentucky's top on-ball defenders, but Hawkins was a more-than-adequate replacement on both ends of the floor, leading UK coach John Calipari to make a Wally Pipp joke in the postgame press conference. Pipp was the New York Yankees first baseman who infamously took a day off before Lou Gehrig started his streak of 2,130 consecutive games played.
“I’m so glad I was able to get the opportunity to play in this game today. I’m blessed," said Hawkins, who made three of UK's 11 treys on the day. "This was a huge rivalry game, and I know what it means to Kentucky folks, so I think everyone is pretty happy today.”
Asked why he was so prepared to step in for Briscoe on short notice, Hawkins added: “I had a good warmup, plus this was a big game. I feel like I play better on bigger stages as well. I was also very confident today. Every shot I threw up, I thought it was going to go in.”
The combined effort of UK's three vets helped the Cats overcome a 27-point performance by Louisville's Damion Lee and a 39-29 rebounding advantage by the Cards.
Louisville, which trailed by 16 with 17:54 remaining, had a chance to tie or win the game on its final possession, but Lee's step-back 3 from the left corner came up short as Calipari improved to 8-1 as the UK coach against former Wildcats boss Rick Pitino.
With the win, No. 12 Kentucky (10-2) bounced back from a disappointing loss to Ohio State last Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic. The No. 16 Cards dropped to 11-2 on the season.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some quick-hitters from the UK victory...
Louisville shaved a 16-point deficit all the way down to one on a 3-pointer by Lee with 5:34 remaining, and all 24,412 in attendance at Rupp Arena were on the edge of their seats. Kentucky's Ulis answered with an NBA-range trey of his own to beat the shot clock on the other end. Moments later, Lee made a layup to pull the Cards within two before Hawkins countered with a 3-pointer from the right wing to keep Louisville at bay.
BY THE NUMBERS:
1 - Turnover by UK's Ulis against Louisville's trademark full-court pressure defense.
11 - Season-high for 3-pointers made by the Cats.
22-2 - Key run by UK spanning the last three minutes of the first half and the first three minutes of the second half.
34-15 - Kentucky's lead in the all-time series against Louisville.
65 - Minutes played by Ulis in his two career games versus UofL, recording 35 points, 10 assists and one turnover while shooting 6-of-9 from 3-point range.
200 - Wins for Calipari at UK. The program became the first in NCAA history to have five coaches with 200 or more wins (Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Pitino, Orlando "Tubby" Smith, Calipari).
"Never changed his emotion the whole time. He defended, he'll fight like crazy. He's got a great temperament, a great demeanor. One of the great kids of all time. I mean literally one of the great kids." -- UK coach John Calipari on junior guard Dominique Hawkins.
Kentucky returns to action on Saturday, Jan. 2, against Ole Miss in the SEC opener at Rupp Arena. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. on the SEC Network.