Louisville 80, Kentucky 77

USA TODAY Sports

The only way to start your New Year's Eve is by reliving a Louisville basketball victory over Kentucky.

I was originally going to start this post by saying that I'm happy the game is over, but that's too much of an oversimplification. Let me instead start by saying this: I'm happy that the game is over...and that we won.

Eight weeks of play has proven beyond the shadow of doubt what we all hoped was going to be the case before this season: the Louisville Cardinals are fully capable of winning the national championship. That should be this team's primary focus, and with the Kentucky game over and conquered, there's now no question that it's going to be.

We all know how insufferable Kentucky fans would have been had Louisville lost a fifth straight game to their hated rivals on Saturday. While I don't think the players hear nearly as much of the "off-the-court talk" as fans believe they do, they do hear some, and there's no doubt that at least some of that "you can't beat UK" chatter (from their fans AND ours) would have made its to way to their ears.

For us as fans, beating Kentucky was about holding the upper hand in the perpetual war of words and being able to maintain some sanity. For the team it was about avoiding an unnecessary distraction on the road to a larger goal.

The Louisville/Kentucky game is always somewhat of an outlier, not necessarily because the best team doesn't always win (more times than not they do), but because the atmosphere, the way it's played and the way it's called is so different than any other game that either team plays all season. The fans behave differently, the players do things they ordinarily wouldn't, and I do think the officials call the game differently. Still, because of the amount of attention given to the game by the fans and the media, the importance of winning can't simply be tossed aside, especially when you're in a situation like the one the Cardinals were in on Saturday.

Again, I'm glad it's over, and I'm glad we won.

Speaking about how this game does crazy things to players, I think this was probably the worst defensive game Louisville has played all year.

The atmosphere had everyone antsy, and our guys took a lot more gambles on the defensive end than we've seen in recent weeks. It paid off a handful of times and generated some key fast-break points, but we also had horrible spacing in our zone, and a number of times it seemed like guys were thinking about picking off passes instead of rotating to cover the open man. Kyle Wiltjer almost single-handedly shooting UK back into the game was the most glaring example, but of Kentucky's 21 3-point attempts, the vast majority were uncontested.

The nine steals and the four blocks were great, but if UK hits just a couple more wide-open treys and a few more of their free-throws, then they would have beaten us at home by scoring 80+ points, something I don't think anyone envisioned.

Kudos to the fans in the lower bowl for allowing a significantly lower chunk of blue than two years ago, but an even bigger shoutout to the student section. You guys were tremendous all afternoon long. Whatever celebration you treated yourself to, or are still treating yourself to, you deserve it.

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Chane Behanan is on the verge of becoming a monster. He's also going to start receiving some serious national attention in coming weeks, which worries me a little bit. He doesn't need to score 35 points for this team to win, and as long as he remembers that, he'll be fine.

For all the talk about Chane not working hard enough this summer, I'm about 5,000 times more confident in his mid-range jumper than I was at any point last season, including during the March run. He also made perhaps the most mature play we've seen from him to date on the jump pass to Gorgui in the final minutes with the shot clock winding down. The old Chane would have panicked and jacked up the three when he first touched the ball, and he absolutely would have taken the slightly better shot from a couple of steps inside the arc. New Chane, conversely, never got flustered, took two dribbles, rose for a jump shot and then drilled a rolling Gorgui, who drew a Nerlens Noel goaltend. It was really encouraging to see.

Of course he still had his fair share of Chanediculous moments. The unnecessary reverse dunk was dangerously close to being missed, and we've all seen technicals called for far less than blowing a kiss to the camera after a dunk. It would have been a potentially game-changing error in judgment had it been called, and I sincerely doubt his media ban would have been lifted.

Still, the good is far outweighing the bad right now with Chane Behanan. The sky is the limit for this team if we can keep saying that for the next three months.

Tim Brando just now learned that his name isn't Chance.

I will say this about Kentucky, they have the chance to be better by March then I would have ever guessed three weeks ago.

Heading into the season, I wasn't sure Ryan Harrow was capable of playing the type of game he did on Saturday, and that was before...well, whatever it was that happened to him at the beginning of the season. If he and Goodwin keep that up and Noel and Cauley-Stein and Poythress continue to develop, they're going to be an awfully tough out.

Also, I know Noel has the "UK" shaved in the back of his head which rubs people the wrong way and all that, but it's awfully hard not to like the way he plays. That kid doesn't have the offensive skill set of Anthony Davis, but he's a crazy athlete and he gives as much effort as anyone in the country. You can't hate that.

Kudos to these gents for making the USA Today and AP photo galleries.

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There was a period during the WLKY pregame show in which the CC BIrd Mask pretty much completely took over. He was in a suit photobombing outside, then he was in the background of the liveshot inside, and then these two guys were a front and center when they went to a shot of the crowd was already in the arena.

Well done to you all.

You haven't really thought about how fast Russ Smith is until you've heard Russ Smith talk about how fast Russ Smith is.

"I'm not gonna lie, there was, like, maybe two plays when I just grabbed it and went coast-to-coast, and then after I scored it I was like, 'that was pretty fast.' Like...that was fast. So now I can see, because after that I realized how fast I was."

In all seriousness, of all Russ' assets, his ability to leak out and beat opponents down the floor for easy finishes or drawn fouls may be the greatest. Fastbreak opportunities off of turnovers or long rebounds are only meaningful if you can capitalize on them, and no one in college basketball is better at doing that than Russ Smith. Those 10-14 (at least) "cheap points" that he gets every game couldn't be more crucial. I mean, that's 10-14 points that teams without Russ, or some knockoff version of Russ, just don't get.

Also, I think the two biggest plays of the game were his jump shot from just inside the arc when UK had cut it to four and had all the momentum with about 6:40 left, and then his follow-up of his own miss to push the lead back to five two minutes later. Both were huge in restoring control and taking a little bit of the bounce out of the visitors' step.

The best dreams I have are the ones in which I'm a member of the Dieng family.

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The details are sketchy. I can't see myself, so I don't know if I'm naturally born or adopted, but we have great Christmases. There are lectures about the importance of making your own way in life, pickup basketball games that I usually lose (it's Ok), matching suit and ties for Gorgui and I, and laughter...so much laughter.

I said earlier in the week that I didn't want Gorgui to start because we could use him coming into the game for the first time as a huge momentum boost if we needed it. That's exactly what happened after Russ missed that dunk and Kentucky came down and scored and was fouled on the other end. Gorgui came in, the crowd went ballistic, and all the Wildcat players on the bench that had been standing sat down.

It was like some sort of "power up" boost in a video game. When you have the opportunity, you might as well utilize it.

As for Gorgui, he certainly showed none of the signs of timidity that we've seen from other players coming back from injuries. He wrestled rebounds away from multiple opponents, dove for balls, and had a nasty dunk off of a rebound in traffic that I'm not sure we would have seen from him the past two years.

His foul trouble kept us from being able to see how he would have fared if given the opportunity to play 30-35 minutes, but he really showed no signs of being hindered by his wrist during the 20 that he did play.

Couldn't be happier to have him back and ready to take on the Big East with the team at full strength.

Although I guess the only question mark in terms of health is Stephan Van Treese, who didn't play at all.

I know Montrezl Harrell being able to play the five is a big step forward for this team, but I hope it doesn't signify the end of SVT getting solid run. Let's not forget that we almost beat the No. 1 team in the country with Van Treese playing 35 minutes at the five and doing a terrific job guarding the early frontrunner for national Player of the Year.

The kid can help us.

Love Zach Price, but I'm not sure I've ever seen a 6'10 player who's worse at the opening tip. It's like he's on a second and-a-half delay.

If they ever feel like updating that "We're Miles Ahead" sign on 64, or if they just want to put another one up somewhere, I think this photo should be put to good use:

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The Worst thing could have happened for us as fans at the end of the game was UK hitting that meaningless three right before the buzzer.

The moment it went in, I knew exactly what the talking point from the other side was going to be. Instead of simply being able to say they played a good Louisville team tough on their home floor, we've been flooded with a steady stream of "you could only beat us by three" or "we were one shot away from sending the game to overtime."

Multiple times now I have seen Kentucky fans, bloggers, or what have you making the claim that the game was "there for the taking" but the Wildcats couldn't "close the deal" (or some variation). I'm not sure what game these people were watching, but the last time UK trailed Louisville by less than two points was the 3:22 mark of the first half. U of L led by seven with 35 seconds left. The home team was the only one who failed to "close the deal" on something, and that was a convincing victory.

It's strange to say, but if Goodwin's last trey finds iron then Wildcat fans are a lot less chatty right now. Perception's a crazy thing.

If there were a live camera on me for the opening ten minutes of any Louisville/Kentucky game, people - including many who know and love me - would be shocked and horrified. I say things I don't mean. Then I get into the flow of the game and things get a little better. A little.

Percentage of Big Blue Nation that can tell you how many national titles Kentucky has won: 99. Percentage that can tell you the years in which they won titles before 1996: if my Saturday is any indication, I'm going to say about 23.

If I could go professional in anything right now, it might be predicting whether or not Peyton Siva is going to make a shot right after it leaves his hands.

We saw the brief return of the high-arcing squirt shot on Saturday, which no one missed. When Peyton got back to the standard follow through, normal arc shot that we've seen for the last few weeks, he promptly buried a couple of big bombs.

One of the strangest things about Peyton's outside shot is that he sometimes plants with his off foot when he's wide open, and he seems to shoot the ball just as well. What I mean is that when right-handed shooters are open and have a chance to step into an outside shot, they generally use their left foot as their pivot foot and then step into the shot with their right. Every now and then Peyton will do the opposite, and it seems to not have an effect on his shot one way or the other. Look at the video of his two makes from Saturday. It's bizarre.

Just how big is this game? These were the trending topics on Twitter in the United States...at 2:30 on Sunday morning.

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I thought Wayne Blackshear played really well for stretches in the first half, and then made an old Wayne regression in the second. He forced a couple shots and got lost a couple of times on defense, and just like that the New Wayne confidence was gone. When he started thinking too much about where he was supposed to be on defense or whether or not he should take another shot, he lost the aggressiveness that has been his biggest asset over the past two weeks.

We've been saying it here since the start of the season, but Blackshear has got to adopt at least a little bit of Russ Smith's mentality when things go badly for him. He has the potential to be a tremendous, tremendous player, but he has got to stop doubting himself so much in the possessions after he makes a mistake. I know he's heard the same thing from the staff, but so far he's almost taken that to mean he has to shoot right after he misses. We've seen him, more than once, just decide he's going to shoot on a possession and wind up throwing up a crazy shot that doesn't find any iron. The mentality he needs to adopt is to stay aggressive and keep letting the game come to him, even if he's just missed a wide open trey or been beaten backdoor.

Wayne has the right attitude, and all signs point to him turning into a consistent double-figure scorer and big-time overall player at some point over the next couple of months.

The "show his parents" chant from the crowd when they wanted to see Gorgui's parents on the big screen may be a top ten all-timer.

All I could think of when Calipari got T'd up and was telling John Cahill "throw me out" repeatedly, was that Andy Bernard quote from "The Office": "Andy Bernard doesn't lose contests, he wins them....or he quits them because they are unfair."

I tweeted that. Some people responded by saying that I was a homosexual who performs homosexual acts. The correlation was lost on me, but I suppose it might have been over my head. I've been busy and haven't been reading as much lately.

The technical also resulted in a Hipster Rick counter in which Pitino removed his tie about a minute later. There was a period in which Rick was tieless, but still had his suit coat on. To say it was hard for me to focus on the action on the court would be the understatement of the year.

If someone asks me: "which player on the team do you think could come the closest to doing a full splitz?" I now have an answer.

Nothing in life makes me feel cooler than being able to excitedly, angrily or casually say "Trez" and get away with it. Five years ago a "GET UP, TREZ!" would have resulted in a swift ass kicking by total strangers simply doing their civic duty. Now, I'm just a guy cheering on his team.

Thank you, Seth Greenberg.

Louisville is better than Kentucky at basketball.

We've got that going for us for another year...and we might end up having even more.

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