LEXINGTON – Kentucky’s shortest player led the Wildcats past their biggest rival.
Point guard Tyler Ulis scored 21 points, and No. 12 Kentucky held off 16th-ranked Louisville’s rally for a 75-73 win Saturday to give John Calipari his 200th victory as the Wildcats’ coach.
“It was a great team performance and really a good win,” Ulis said. “We played with a lot more enthusiasm from the start.”
Damion Lee, who led the Cardinals with 27 points, was well off on a potential winning 3-point attempt at the buzzer. Kentucky (10-2) led by 16 points early in the second half before Louisville came almost all the way back.
“The first half, we gave up a lot of baskets, a lot of offensive rebounds, a lot of 3s,” Lee said. “We weren’t really playing our game. We came back. We fought back. It was a very, very close game against a great team. We just didn’t execute down the stretch.”
The Cardinals (11-2) had a chance to tie or take the lead with less than a minute left, but Trey Lewis was called for traveling. The Wildcats then committed a shot-clock violation to give Louisville one more chance.
Kentucky had not played since a 74-67 loss to Ohio State last week.
“I really believe having Christmas off for these guys was great,” Calipari said. “(It) cleared their minds.”
Alex Poythress scored 14 points for Kentucky. Dominique Hawkins added 13 and Jamal Murray had 12.
Kentucky’s second-leading scorer, Isaiah Briscoe, sat out after hurting his ankle during pregame warmups. Calipari was surprised Briscoe didn’t attempt to play.
“He’s a fighter,” Calipari said. “What he’ll do is he’ll come back and kill people next week, if his ankle is healthy.”
Freshman guard Charles Matthews started in place of Briscoe, who averages 11.5 points, but it was Hawkins who gave the Wildcats a spark in his absence. Hawkins hit a clutch 3-pointer and made two free throws in the final three minutes to keep the Wildcats in front.
“For me to have the game I did today, it was a blessing. I didn’t realize I had that many points,” Hawkins said. “I was just really confident. Every shot that went up, I felt it was going in.”
In the latest installment of the rivalry, Calipari and Louisville coach Rick Pitino both received technical fouls late in the first half.
Calipari is now 8-1 against the Cardinals with Kentucky.
Poythress scored six of the Wildcats’ first eight points to open the second half, stretching their lead to 52-36 with 17:49 remaining.
Twice after Louisville pulled within two in the last five minutes, Kentucky hit a big 3-pointer – one by Ulis and another from Hawkins.
The Wildcats made a season-high 11 3s.
Pitino didn’t meet with reporters after the game, with assistant Ralph Willard taking his place. A school spokesman said Pitino was doing a radio interview at the time. Pitino has skipped postgame news conferences on occasion this season.
“I think guys did a great job of coming back competing in the second half,” Willard said. “(Kentucky) hit some really, really tough shots that ordinarily you would say those are the kind of shots you want them to take in that situation. They made them and you’ve got to give them credit.”
A fan posted a fuzzy video after the game of Pitino making a gesture toward the crowd as he headed toward the locker room. The spokesman said Pitino held up his index finger, sarcastically indicating, “We’re No. 1.”
Kentucky: C Skal Labissiere, who started the first 11 games, came off the bench and finished with two points and three rebounds. … Calipari is the second-fastest coach in Division I history to reach 200 wins at a school, hitting the mark in his 240th game at Kentucky. Only Clair Bee, who earned 200 wins in his first 231 games at Long Island University from 1931-41, did it faster.
Louisville: Pitino had a 6-2 record against the Cardinals while coaching the Wildcats. He is 5-12 against Kentucky. Louisville has not won in Lexington since an 89-75 victory in 2008. … Lewis scored 15 points.
Kentucky hosts Ole Miss on Saturday.
Louisville hosts Wake Forest on Jan. 3.