The game between Top 5 teams and in-state rivals Louisville and Kentucky was expected to be a high-intensity affair played at a good pace. Well thanks to the "third team" we got the intensity but not the pace, but by the end of the afternoon at Rupp Arena it was clear that Kentucky's 69-62 victory would be long remembered for the play of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Kidd-Gilchrist, who has emerged as the leader of John Calipari's talented squad, stole the show with 24 point and 19 rebounds in leading Kentucky to their 44th straight home victory.
The final day of 2011 features one of the most anticipated games of the college basketball season, a rivalry game that captivates an entire state and is one of the best games in college basketball. #4 Louisville (12-1), fresh off of a lost to Georgetown in their Big East opener, visits #3 Kentucky (12-1) in what should be a spirited battle at Rupp Arena. The Cardinals have played just one road game this season but it was also one of their best efforts as they won at Butler without the then-injured Peyton Siva.
The matchup between #10 Florida and Rutgers on Thursday night was hyped up due to the return of Mike Rosario, who transferred from the New Jersey school following two seasons in New Brunswick. But his return was a subplot in what turned out to be one of the best games of the calendar year, with the focus by the end being Mike Rice's young guards. Eli Carter led the way with 31 points, seven rebounds and seven assists while Myles Mack knocked down some big shots late in regulation and during the overtime periods to lead Rutgers to the 85-83 double overtime victory.
It can be argued that Vanderbilt's trip to #13 Marquette is the big game of the day on Thursday, especially when considering a Commodore resume that could use some added bulk. But there's also the first-ever conference game as a member of the West Coast Conference for BYU (11-3), and they're jumping directly into the fire thanks to the league schedule-makers. Dave Rose's Cougars visit Saint Mary's (11-2) in the league opener for both teams, and there are some very good individual battles to keep track of in Moraga.
With conference play beginning for many leagues this week (a few conferences began their league slate in early December) it's a good time to look back on some of the top performers. Enter CHN writer Jon Teitel, who put together his all-conference teams for each of the leagues.
Plenty of teams have pre-Christmas letdowns, when they allow their minds to wander a bit against teams they're expected to beat. But in a lot of those cases the favored team is able to bounce back and do enough to eventually win the game. But that wasn't the case for #15 Pittsburgh, who turned the ball over 18 times against a team in Wagner that was talented enough to make them pay for those errors.
Friday marks the final day of games before Christmas Day, and while the schedule is light there are some good games to keep an eye on. Atop the list is a game at the Las Vegas Classic matching West Virginia (8-2) and #7 Baylor (10-0), with the Bears boasting one of the deepest frontcourt rotations in the country. But to be fair this is their most strenuous back-to-back stretch of the season as they beat Saint Mary's on Thursday night.
In each of North Carolina's last two games sophomore forward Harrison Barnes shot 4-for-12 from the field and scored nine points. Some may have been concerned given the fact that those performances came against Appalachian State and Nicholls State, ignoring the fact that the Tar Heels still managed to win both games by comfortable margins. Barnes is fine, as he showed in North Carolina's 82-63 win over Texas by scoring a season-high 26 points and grabbing ten rebounds in just 25 minutes of action.
Thursday is the final "busy day" on the college basketball schedule before Christmas and there's important business to address in St. Louis: Braggin' Rights. Undefeated and eighth-ranked Missouri (11-0) looks for its third straight win over #24 Illinois (11-1) in the series, and despite the change in head coach the Tigers remain one of the most balanced teams in the country.
For a while on Tuesday night it looked as if a Southern Conference team would hand another undefeated team its first defeat of the season. But an important suggestion by Louisville assistant coach Richard Pitino set things in motion for the fourth-ranked Cardinals, sparking a rally that resulted in a 69-62 victory. The idea: instead of relying on the frontcourt tandem of Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan to occupy the foul line area against the Charleston zone, use the versatile Kyle Kuric at the four.
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