LEXINGTON, Ky. — Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hesitantly accepted a leadership role at first as the youngest member on No. 3 Kentucky’s prospect-laden roster. Comfortable with his status, there’s no telling just how far he can carry the Wildcats.
“I’m very shy, but I’m getting better,” the 18-year-old forward said. “I just relax on the basketball court.”
In a hard-fought game, Kentucky needed a player who lives for basketball to step up. Fortunately, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist fit the bill, writes Eamonn Brennan. Blog
Kidd-Gilchrist had season-highs with 24 points and 19 rebounds to lead Kentucky in a rough-and-tumble 69-62 victory over No. 4 Louisville on Saturday to extend the nation’s longest home winning streak.
“This is what I live for right here. Why? Because I’ve always been that way,” Kidd-Gilchrist said of the physical play that at times turned it into more like a free throw shooting contest with 52 fouls called. “I’m built for this.”
And Kentucky (13-1) seems built for a long NCAA tournament run after fellow freshman Anthony Davis added 18 points, all in the second half, as well as 10 rebounds and six blocks in the annual in-state rivalry game.
The Cardinals (12-2) only led at 2-0, but gave Kentucky all it could handle after rallying from an early 15-point deficit before tying it in the second half thanks to Russ Smith, who had a career-high 30 points.
“I’ve never coached a team that is willing to give the effort that this team gives,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “Unfortunately there are no moral victories. We struggled shooting the basketball tonight.”
Kidd-Gilchrist’s hustle and Davis’ emergence following first-half foul problems proved to be the difference with rapper Jay-Z, actress Ashley Judd and nearly a dozen NBA scouts watching.
With all the luminaries on hand, no one at Rupp Arena was more important to Kidd-Gilchrist than his mother, Cindy Richardson, who attended after being released from the hospital for an unspecified illness last week.
Kidd-Gilchrist said it meant a lot to see her at Rupp Arena after her hospital stay.
“It’s very hard to see my mother there,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I was crying my eyes out that night, but she fought through it.”
Kentucky has won 44 straight at home, including 43 in a row at Rupp Arena, for the nation’s longest streak ahead of Duke’s 43. This one will be remembered after the teams came in with the highest combined ranking in history.