Kentucky's Anthony Davis (23) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) celebrate a basket by Kidd-Gilchrist in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011, in Louisville, Ky. Kidd-Gilchrist contributed 24 points and 19 rebounds and Davis added 18 points, all in the second half, as Kentucky won 69-62. (AP Photo/The Lexington Herald-Leader, Pablo Alcala) Kentucky Wildcats' Anthony Davis (23) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) celebrated a basket by Kidd-Gilchrist in the first half of the Louisville at Kentucky basketball game at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Dec. 31, 2011. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Russ Smith and No. 4 Louisville were in a big hole for the second straight game. The sharpshooting sophomore nearly helped the Cardinals battle back in a big way.
Smith had a career-high 30 points and the Cardinals gave No. 3 Kentucky all it could handle after rallying from an early 15-point deficit before falling 69-62 on Saturday.
It was Louisville's second straight loss.
"Nobody on the team, and especially me; I didn't want to lose by 20," Smith said. "That's the way it was heading. The guys huddled together and we made a comeback. We got the game within a stretch that we could potentially win."
Instead, freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had season-highs with 24 points and 19 rebounds and Anthony Davis added 18 points, all in the second half, for the Wildcats (13-1) in their annual in-state rivalry game that at times looked more like a free throw shooting contest with 52 fouls called.
Kidd-Gilchrist's hustle and Davis' emergence after first-half foul trouble proved to be the difference with rapper Jay-Z, actress Ashley Judd and nearly a dozen NBA scouts on hand to watch the highest combined ranking of the schools in series history.
"I've never coached a team that is willing to give the effort that this team gives. Unfortunately there are no moral victories," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "If we can somehow get our execution to match our effort, we're going to have an outstanding ball club. I'm real proud of our guys. I've never coached a group of guys that had this much will to win. But we've got to start shooting the ball better. If you work that hard and get nothing out of it, it's very frustrating."
With the game tied at 40 early in the second half, Louisville (12-2) had a chance to take its second lead but Peyton Siva never hit the rim on an 18-foot jumper.
Kentucky went on a 7-0 run from there, with Kidd-Gilchrist hitting one of two free throws and making a layup on another trip before Davis got to the line and made four free throws over two possessions to make it 47-40.
Davis blocked Chris Smith on one end, then cleaned up Kentucky's fast break on the other to give the Wildcats a 49-42 lead. His alley-oop slam from Doron Lamb made it 56-48 with 6:40 left.
The battles kept going after the whistle with Davis and Rakeem Buckles tangled up on an out-of-bounds play and Davis pleading for a foul.
On another one, Davis went flying into the crowd trying to make a save and landed on an older woman in the front row. Kidd-Gilchrist came over, screaming, "A.D.! A.D.!" with a smile on his face as he pulled his teammate back toward the court.
"This is me, this is what I live for right here. Why? I've always been that way," Kidd-Gilchrist said, later adding, "This game is all mental to me. I play my heart out. That's what I give -- my heart."
Kidd-Gilchrist's three-point play with 3:41 left gave the Wildcats a 61-50 lead, its first beyond double digits since the first half, and Kentucky was never seriously threatened for its third straight win in the series.
Gorgui Dieng, who entered the second half with one foul, picked up three in a span of 2:20 to head to the bench with 16:08 left, but seconds later, Kentucky coach John Calipari picked up a technical foul for his displeasure with the officiating.
Trailing 40-36, Russ Smith hit a 3-pointer and was fouled by Kidd-Gilchrist. He converted it to tie the game with 15:21 left, but Louisville never got over the hump after also rallying from an 11-point deficit before losing against No. 12 Georgetown for its first loss on Wednesday.
"We never feel like we are out of it," Smith said. "Any basketball player would know the game is not over until the 40 minutes is up, so we play hard. If we were down a few points less, it could have gotten interesting."
Louisville freshman Chane Behanan was the first player to lose his cool in this emotionally-charged matchup of schools separated by 78 miles.
Behanan, recruited by both schools, had already picked up an early foul when he was called for a charge and assessed a technical for his reaction with 16:16 left in the first half.
Louisville opened with a 2-0 lead, but Darius Miller answered with a 3-pointer and Kidd-Gilchrist was the only Wildcat to make a field goal over the next 13:45 as Kentucky feasted at the foul line to build a 31-16 lead.
Louisville's two Smiths mounted a 13-0 run to get back in it and Louisville was only down 36-33 at the half.
The Cardinals would tie it before 5 minutes passed in the second half, but never could mount a push to take control in one of the most hyped games since the 1983-84 season opener that the Wildcats also won.
"This is a good rivalry," Pitino said. "Tonight, it wasn't good offense, it was hard-nose defense, but nobody is fighting or trash talking. It's two teams that have respect for the other team's ability."