Devils Hold Back Kentucky, 69-61
Twelve Devils of Christmas: Sue Harnett
Editor's Note: The following DWHoops special feature takes a look at Sunday's game from the perspective of Louisville's fanbase. The Cardinals will become an Atlantic Coast Conference member on July 1, 2014.
A Louisville Fan Goes to Lexington
Love Triangle? Hardly.
80 miles from my door to parking at Rupp Arena in Lexington. OK, that's about 10 times the length of the drive down Tobacco Road, but that just serves to add another element to the rivalry between Kentucky and Louisville. Separated by rolling hills, rural countryside, and two other small cities, there's enough distance between Louisville and Lexington, the two largest cities in Kentucky, that the rivalry between the two schools becomes to some degree representative of the rivalry between the two cities. Attributing the rivalry between Louisville and Kentucky to municipal separation doesn't quite capture the flavor, though. Kentucky is the team of the state while Louisville is the team of The City of Louisville so it becomes Louisville versus the rest of the state.
Kentucky vs Duke is another matchup that is the stuff of legends. With no proximity factor in play, the tension between these two schools is based almost completely on being on the opposite sides of the court in contentious games. Most of the antipathy between these two teams comes from Men's Basketball - ask any avid Kentucky fan who their most hated college basketball player of all time and teams is, and the answer will always be Christian Laettner - but it has spread to be a generalized dislike...at least from the Kentucky side of things.
The third side of this triangle is the weakest. Louisville fans, in general, aren't fans of Duke. Its hard to pinpoint a reason for this, but it is definitely there.
With Louisville joining the ACC next summer, the game between Duke and UK takes on added interest for this Louisville fan. To say that Louisville fans are excited about joining the ACC would be an amazing understatement. Looking forward to a step up in the overall competition levels in nearly all of the sports that UofL plays, and not least in women's basketball, the opportunity to see, first hand, how a future conference opponent in Duke matches up against a annual non-conference opponent in Kentucky made the drive down I-64 East an easy decision to make.
Duke came into the game ranked #2 in the nation and having just lost to perennial power UConn.
Kentucky sports #5 and #6 rankings in the two major polls, and was undefeated coming into this game, including their epic 4OT battle against Baylor, and in a closely contested battle at Memorial Coliseum, handing Louisville their only loss of the season.
Louisville doesn't have a huge tradition and history of athletics, at least not significant inter-scholastic competition. The first thing that struck me at Rupp Arena were the rituals and traditions that Kentucky fans participate in when watching their basketball teams. Given the history and traditions of Duke basketball, I can only imagine that the same sort of traditions are observed at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Late in the game, I was struck at how quickly the Kentucky crowd would get loud in support of their team. Of course, this was a huge game for the Wildcats, with a Pack The House promotion resulting in a sell-out crowd of close to 24,000, but the Kentucky fans got loud and did so very quickly when needed to support their team, even as they trailed in the score. Maybe a trip to Durham, NC is in order to experience Cameron Indoor for comparison's sake.
As the game started, it became very clear that the Duke lineup was significantly larger than the UK squad. What surprised me was to see how well the Duke team played position defense and ran the court. I particularly noticed how well Tricia Liston ran the court, frequently being at the leading edge, or even out in front, of the Kentucky defense, which is quite impressive. Kentucky's defense is known for their "40 minutes of dread," an aggressive, pressing style of defense designed to wear down the opponent physically and emotionally, and force turnovers. True to form, the Wildcats were all over the court swatting at passes and getting into passing lanes. It seemed that Duke wasn't quite ready for the quickness of the Kentucky defense with the Wildcats deflecting many of them, but it was also very clear that the Blue Devils passes weren't ill-advised. The Duke players clearly had a very good court awareness of where their teammates and opposing players were, but just weren't quite prepared for the quickness with which Kentucky's defense could get to passes. As the game progressed, you could see the Blue Devils get a feel for this and fewer passes got deflected.
Free throws may have been the difference maker in this game, though. With Duke shooting 83% and UK an abysmal 42% from the charity stripe, the Kentucky deficit when the clock reached zero for the final time could more than be accounted for if their free throw shooting percentage had been reasonable. Duke did see some players get into foul trouble, though none fouled out, so perhaps it was a good strategy given Kentucky's terrible free throw shooting.
The Possible Future
I don't expect that Duke would be too flustered by Louisville's defensive pressure, but Louisville's pressure is less designed to force turnovers and initiate the offense compared to Kentucky. Louisville will take advantage of that, of course, but is much more likely to just use the offense to slow down the scoring pace of the opponent while our highly effective offensive capability get a chance to pour in the points. Louisville has scored over 100 points in four games this year, and scores that aren't at least in the upper 80's and 90's are pretty rare. Louisville has a very quick transition offense including running out after opponent's made baskets, and plays at a very high pace throughout a game. I've even seen Louisville effectively win transition points on dead-ball out-of-bounds plays. Duke's relative lack of depth could become an issue as Louisville regularly goes nine deep on the bench without any real drop-off in effectiveness, and all eleven players that are currently dressing can and do deliver real contributions in games, not just filler minutes.
The Definite but More Distant Future
Next year, a Cards-Blue Devils matchup might be a bit more to Duke's liking, as Louisville presently has five players listed as seniors on the roster. Sheronne Vails is red-shirting this year. Nita Slaughter went down with a cardiac event earlier in the season and is hoping for a medical red-shirt, but its not clear whether she'll get it. Tia Gibbs, Asia Taylor and Shoni Schimmel will all be completing their eligibility at the end of this season, and that triumvirate will be a big loss to Louisville. Gibbs has only been playing limited minutes, but her contributions in those minutes are huge. Taylor and Schimmel are proven playmakers and scorers. On the Duke side, I'll be glad that we won't have to be facing Tricia Liston, Chelsea Gray, and Haley Peters.
Regardless, I expect both Duke and Louisville will be in the upper echelons of ACC play in Women's Basketball which should make for a rich history in the making of great games, exciting atmospheres at Cameron Indoor Stadium and The KFC Yum! Center, and quality teams.
Duke v Louisville - A Rivalry in the Making?
Louisville has several teams that we consider rivals. Kentucky, obviously, but also teams that have a long history as conference opponents such as Cincinnati, a Big East foe; and Memphis, from Conference USA days and briefly re-united in this year's AAC. There is a bit of feel of rivalry in Notre Dame matchups as well, and it will be good to be back in conference with Muffet McGraw's squad next year. Conference play definitely opens the door to building rivalries. The opportunity to play so frequently and regularly leads to familiarity of play, teams and fanbases. Will Louisville and Duke develop a real rivalry in the ACC? Only time will tell, of course, but I do believe there is a real possibility of it. Duke and Louisville both compete well in nearly all of the sports that the schools participate in, including women's basketball, and its just hard to consider a school a rival when all of the matchups are lopsided blow-outs.
The challenge is that rivalries have to be special. You can't consider every team you play a rival, or the word loses its meaning. With Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pitt all as conference-mates from the Big East, where will the rivalries really develop? I'm looking forward to playing Duke on a regular basis in the years to come, and not just in women's basketball. Is that the seed of a rivalry? I hope so.
The Biggest Question
The biggest question in my mind when Duke and Louisville play regularly in future years is:
"Who will Kentucky fans cheer for?"
Jeff McAdams writes for Cardinal Couple, a fan site and blog sharing the joy and excitement of The University of Louisville Women's Athletics. He is also a co-host of the weekly Cardinal Couple Radio Show. For his day job, Jeff is a mostly mild-mannered computer network engineer. Follow him on Twitter via @JeffMcAdams.
Devils Hold Back Kentucky, 69-61
Twelve Devils of Christmas: Sue Harnett