For all the talk amongst Kentucky fans about how we missed a golden opportunity to blow Louisville out of the building Saturday, I haven’t heard a soul speak to the flip side of that argument: What’s the one thing that could’ve absolutely ruined our weekend and season? Louisville could’ve beaten us. The Cardinals played terrible, sure, but so did we. Had Louisville come out and, say, gotten hot from the three-point line, or been able to convert on half of those bunnies they botched early, or been able to get something better than 10-33 from their trio of Sosa, Swopshire, and Samuels, or, hell, hit a single shot in the first ten minutes of the game, they would’ve put themselves in position to pull the upset–that’s how bad Kentucky played. We won the game by nine points. Nine. If U of L finds a way to knock down any three of the 12 three-pointers they missed, and they’re able to convert on even one of their hundred missed shots inside four feet, Kentucky walks away with a 14-1 record, no chance at a perfect season, and—worst of all—a third straight loss to Rick Pitino and the Cardinals. I’m not trying to be Debbie Downer here, I just think these things are important to keep in mind. An objective perspective, if you will.
Now, on to Cousins.
For all the post-game talk from Pitino about Wall having that Kobe or Jordan-gene in the big moment, he didn’t say a word about the guy who’s intensity was the most MJ-like of anyone on the floor–DeMarcus Cousins. That’s the man who showed up with a fire under his ass. Say what you want about Cousins’ ability to control his emotions, but you can’t question—not for a nanosecond—the guy’s ability to get up for a big game. While Wall, the player NBA scouts can’t stop drooling over, was drifting in and out of consciousness for the first twenty minutes, Cousins hit the floor like a wolverine on crack. His actions left no room for interpretation—he was ready to play. Ready to play, ready to work, and ready to hurt people, all of which best illustrated by his spirited–and obvious–effort to split the skull of Louisville’s Jared Swopshire, coming via elbow strike at the tail end of a loose ball tussle early in the first half. And while this kind of behavior might be frowned upon by fans of sportsmanship and/or pacifism, it is 110% okay with me, as well as just about every other fan of intense competition I know. For one, this is a rivalry game, and no matter what anyone tells you, things are different. Anyone who’s ever played a sport of any kind will tell you that once the whistles blow against a hated, geographically affiliated opponent, your mind and body react in ways that defy the understanding of casual spectators. The mind’s racing and your blood’s circulating at rate that would make a cocaine addict start map-questing the local ER. At least, that’s the way it should be.
The problem with bringing in recruits from places like Alabama and North Carolina is they lack the innate hatred for schools like Louisville that people born in places like Pikeville and Corbin carry an excess of. Cousins and Wall openly admitted as much before the game Saturday, then sang a very different song afterward. Both stated, more or less, that the tension was palpable and the energy was contagious; as a result, the venomous trash talk and primitive violence came from the heart. They now understand what this game means to people. Of course, neither will be here next year, so I’m not sure how much their realization really matters, but it’s appreciated nonetheless.