Louisville, KY — In the state of Kentucky, nothing is more important that college basketball.
When you think of Kentucky, horse racing and bourbon come to mind. However, for locals, there's a tradition that runs deeper through the heart and soul of the Bluegrass: College Basketball.
The rivalry between the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky is one of the most heated rivalries in the country. Maybe it's the bourbon that flows through the blood of every Kentuckian that makes the rivalry so intense.
One thing is for certain, once the ball is tipped, the ferocious Battle for the Bluegrass begins.
The No. 17 Kentucky Wildcats traveled down the I-64 corridor to the KFC Yum! Center to battle for something more than a higher ranking; to battle for state pride.
“We’re lucky to have two very talented teams in one state,” Kentucky senior Makayla Epps said. “Not a lot of states are fortunate to have the opportunity to have two really talented teams.”
The 52nd meeting of Louisville and Kentucky certainly showcased the talent in the state of Kentucky.
From the tip, the intensity was clear. The Wildcats won the tip, but a travel by Evelyn Akhator put the ball in Louisville’s possession. Myisha Hines-Allen set the tone for the Cardinals as she struck first on a jump shot.
Hines-Allen grabbed a quick six points, while Louisville held Kentucky scoreless for more than two minutes. But Akhator drove to the bucket to put the Wildcats on the board.
The Cardinals took an early 13-7 lead midway through the first period, but scoring from Maci Morris and Akhator pulled the Wildcats within four points.
Kylee Shook connected on her first three-pointer as a Cardinal, while Briahanna Jackson grabbed a steal and fired off a jump shot to put Louisville up, 18-9.
Louisville held Kentucky to their lowest scoring first period of the season, allowing only 11-points. The Cardinals sailed to the second period behind an eight-point lead.
However, the Wildcats fought back going on a 13-6 run, fueled by Epps and Akhator, to tie the game at 24 with 4:36 remaining in the half. Kentucky held the Cardinals scoreless for nearly three minutes while chipping away at the Louisville lead and forcing Coach Jeff Walz to call a timeout. The Cardinals struggled to penetrate the Kentucky zone, forcing five shots from beyond the arc and only connecting one.
Out of the timeout, Jazmine Jones connected on a layup to put the Cardinals up, 26-24. The momentum shifted when Akhator picked up her second foul and headed to the bench. Without Akhator on the floor, Kentucky went scoreless for nearly five minutes. While Epps made two from the charity stripe, Louisville closed out the first half with a 30-26 lead. Jones kept the Cardinals alive in the second period. as she racked up six points.
At the half, Louisville had forced nine Kentucky turnovers and converted the turnovers into nine points. The Cardinals shot 41.9% from the field, connecting on 13-of-31. However, Louisville struggled to shoot from the perimeter, hitting only 3-of-12 from beyond the arc.
Kentucky powered back from a dismal first period to shift the momentum in the second. The Wildcats shot 42.3% on 11-made field goals.
Kentucky came out of the locker room locked in. Taylor Murray led the Wildcats notching 10-points in the third period, while Epps added five points. The duo accounted for 15 of Kentucky’s 17-second period points.
Kentucky’s defense threw the Louisville offense off balance as the Cardinals missed several layups. The Wildcats picked up a quick five points as Epps fired off a three-pointer and Murray connected on a jumper. Kentucky went ahead, 31-30 at the 8:50 mark.
Hines-Allen ended the Louisville scoring drought as she drove to the bucket for two. Back-to-back fouls, committed by Alyssa Rice and Makenzie Cann respectively, put Hines-Allen and Durr at the line with the potential to take a three-point lead. However, both went 0-of-2 from the charity stripe.
The Cardinals and the Wildcats battled for a significant lead in the third period. Despite Louisville leading at the end of three, 44-43, the momentum seemed to be in Kentucky’s favor.
Playing with three fouls, Hines-Allen came out strong in the final period, single-handedly taking on the Wildcats in the first few minutes. Hines-Allen set the tone for an intense final period as she drove to the bucket for two. However, Makenzie Cann countered firing off a three-pointer to tie the game at 46. Hines-Allen fired off a jump shot to bring the Cardinals back ahead, but Murray connected on a jump shot of her own. Hines-Allen was able to drive to the bucket once more to put Louisville up, 50-48, before a Louisville timeout.
Kentucky notched five points out of the timeout, holding Louisville scoreless for nearly five minutes. The Wildcats took a five-point lead. But Durr hit a crucial shot for the Cardinals, firing off a three-pointer with 1:40 remaining in the game to cut Kentucky’s lead.
Rice fouled Moore, sending her to the line to add a point for the Cardinals and tie the game at 54 with 1:13 remaining. A foul committed by Durr placed Morris at the charity stripe to put the Wildcats back up by two points.
However, a clutch layup by Hines-Allen and stellar defense tied the game at 56 at the end of regulation.
“They're a great basketball team,” Hines-Allen told the media. “We know we had to compete for 40-minutes. We knew we had to play with heart, play with energy for the whole 40-minutes and it showed.”
Durr set the tone for the Cardinals in overtime, firing off a three-pointer. A block on the other end of the court put the ball in Hines-Allen’s hands allowing her to score two for Louisville.
The Cardinals jumped out to an early five-point lead and never looked back. Louisville defeated Kentucky in a great battle, 69-67.
After five straight losses, the Louisville Cardinals are, once again, the Queens of the bluegrass state.
“We had to do it for the city; we had to do it for the state.” Briahanna Jackson told the media.
Hines-Allen added, “We haven't beat Kentucky in five years. This is not only important for us, but for the city.”
The Cardinals had two players notch double-digits: Myisha Hines-Allen led all scorers racking up 26-points on 13 made field goals. While Asia Durr tallied 15-points, hitting a team-best four shot from beyond the arc.
Briahanna Jackson and Cortnee Walton dominated the boards for Louisville grabbing 10 rebounds apiece. Jackson also dished out eight assists and grabbed five steals.
Mariya Moore was crucial for the Cardinals as she dished out eight assists, pulled down nine rebounds and put up eight points.
For the Wildcats, Makayla Epps was a one-woman show. Epps notched a double-double with 22-points and 16-boards all on the defensive end. Epps also dished out a team-best six assists. Taylor Murray was close behind racking up 21-points, while Maci Morris added 10-points.
The Cardinals continue the bluegrass battles as Louisville is set to face the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Sunday, December 11th at the KFC Yum! Center.