Kentucky big man Reid Travis leapt off both feet, and with Louisville guard Christen Cunningham barreling towards the lane and hoisting a runner, swatted the ball away with force. It was symbolic of the way the No. 16 Wildcats handled their in-state rival Louisville on Saturday, as they raced past the Cardinals 71-58 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.
Louisville did not go as quietly as the final score may indicate. Despite trailing for most of the first half and the entirety of the second half, the Cards fought. Each time UK would seemingly place the dagger in its rival, Louisville would put together a mini-run to stay alive. It was a 10-point game with 5:42 left to play.
But in the end there was too much Kentucky -- and, in this game, way too heavy a dosage of Tyler Herro -- for the Cards to handle.
Herro was absolutely, positively terrific. And oh, what a time for him to come alive. He threw down a career-high 24 points and knocked down 10 of 13 from the field, including a stellar 4 of 6 mark from beyond the arc.
This was the Tyler Herro most expected we'd see all season. Only a freshman, he shined for UK in its exhibition trip to the Bahamas in the preseason and looked like a star-in-waiting. But he's been up and down -- more down than up -- for much of this season, logging three games in which he scored fewer than double digits. Before today, he was shooting below 30 percent from the 3-point line.
There is good reason to believe -- and for UK fans, good motivation to hope -- that this showing against Louisville was more of what we can expect from him moving forward. When he's creating shots for himself and drilling open 3s, Kentucky is on an entirely new level. In fact, it may already be there.
After opening the season with a 118-84 thud vs. Duke, the Wildcats are now winners of 10 of their last 11 -- the lone loss coming by 1 in overtime on a neutral court -- and now lay claim to two consecutive top-40 wins. Kentucky looked the part last week in handling North Carolina on a neutral court 80-72, but considering its start, there was reason to maybe approach the result with some cautious optimism. A complete showing on the road to down Louisville lessens the skepticism significantly. It may not be a full corner turn for a team that's been somewhat inconsistent, but the 'Cats are at least peering around the wall and have another level they can go to.
Consider this a missed opportunity for Louisville, and nothing more. With its loss today, they drop to 9-4 overall and 1-4 against top-50 teams on the season. A win over a Kentucky team suddenly gelling would have been a resume-booster, sure, but there are plenty of opportunities ahead -- starting next Sunday with a home tilt against Miami.
The Wildcats improve to 10-2 on the season with their win Saturday.