But in the final 6 1/2 minutes against the Crimson Tide, some of Kentucky's freshmen reverted to old individual habits. Alex Poythress fouled out with only six points and five rebounds in 15 minutes while Archie Goodwin was just 2 of 12 from the field and finished with seven points. Sophomore Ryan Harrow (3 of 12, six points) struggled as well from the field as well.
Seven-foot forward Willie Cauley-Stein missed his second straight game following a procedure on his left knee a week ago, which meant another game of prolonged playing time for 6-10 forward Nerlens Noel. The freshman had 13 rebounds, eight points and seven blocks in 39 minutes while sophomore Kyle Wiltjer (35 minutes) added 14 points, including a couple of timely drives to keep the Wildcats in the game.
Coach John Calipari was encouraged by the play of his big men, but he's back to trying to get his Wildcats to “buy in” to a team concept.
“This is a team that is growing and getting better,” Calipari said afterward. “We showed signs of that and now we took a step back.”
While much of the conference schedule remains for Louisville and Kentucky, the next five games present challenges for both.
The Wildcats have already tripled last year's loss total and have yet to beat a ranked opponent. After hosting LSU, Kentucky travels to No. 23 Mississippi and Texas A&M — which beat the Wildcats on Jan. 12 — before hosting South Carolina and Auburn.
With the Rebels, No. 8 Florida and No. 22 Missouri being the SEC's only ranked teams, Kentucky needs every conference win it can get to boost its NCAA tournament prospects. That means beating teams it's supposed to and snatching a win from one of those ranked squads.
Former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall believes it's possible for the Wildcats if they remember that redemption is just a game away.
“They're a young squad and there are going to be good times and bad times,” Hall said. “Tuesday night was one of those times where it was half good and half bad. It's going to be up and down with young players and their emotions. … They can turn the corner, but they just haven't put it all together yet.”
Louisville's tournament outlook seems solid despite just one win over a ranked team (against Missouri in November), but the Cardinals enter a five-game stretch with three on the road. After the Georgetown (13-4, 3-3) matchup, Louisville hosts Pittsburgh and Marquette before traveling to Rutgers and No. 24 Notre Dame.
Each upcoming opponent except Rutgers has either been ranked or received votes in the poll this season. Still, Pitino's concern is his Cardinals putting their last loss behind them.
“We move on and get ready to face a very tough Georgetown team,” he said.