WKU snaps nine-game losing streak to Louisville in dominant fashion

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Allie Hendricks

WKU guard Josh Anderson (4) jumps for a layup during the WKU vs University of Louisville basketball game at Diddle Arena on Dec. 18, 2021.

Kaden Gaylord-Day, Men's basketball reporter

WKU (8-4) snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Louisville Cardinals (7-4), beating them 82-72 for the first time since 2008 and the first time ever in Diddle Arena.

“The country has seen Western Kentucky, for the last week, on TV in a negative way on every TV channel,” WKU head coach Rick Stansbury said. “Today they saw Western Kentucky in a different light, in a sports arena where there’s a difference, there’s some excitement so it’s great for our university. So much can come from it.”

Graduate guard Camron Justice came up big, leading the way with 25 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Junior center Jamarion Sharp had 14 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. Sophomore guard Dayvion McKnight had 13 points, five rebounds and nine assists. 

One thing the Hilltoppers have been determined to do all season is get off to a fast start, and they certainly did that today. Two quick threes from WKU got Diddle Arena loud and rocking to its feet. 

WKU jumped out to a 20-7 lead before the Cardinals settled down and started hitting three pointers once Sharp checked out of the game. The Cardinals started 1-6 and then made six of their next seven to bring the game within one possession. 

Malik Williams was unable to suit up for the Cardinals, and it showed on the court that they missed him. With Williams out, WKU was able to penetrate into the paint and either kick it out for a three, get fouled and go to the free throw line, or lob it up to Sharp. 

The Hilltoppers looked the most synced on offense that they had all year, recording 13 assists on the 15 total made baskets in the first half. They shot 7-of-8 from the free throw line while the Cardinals failed to even attempt a shot from the charity stripe, part of the reason why WKU took a 46-37 lead into the locker room. 

“We thought the more that we could move the ball around, stretch the ball out, pass it around, [get] guys moving, that they would break down eventually,” Justice said.

The second half started sloppily for WKU with three quick turnovers, half of what they had in the first half. Louisville went on a 10-0 run that brought the game within two possessions. WKU was able to hit shots, but the Cardinals were relentless on defense allowing them to get and make open shots. 

The Cardinals’ aggressiveness led to bad fouls that allowed WKU to get into the bonus with over 14 minutes left in the game. From there on, the game slowed down in the favor of the Hilltoppers.

WKU remained aggressive getting to the paint and drawing fouls while the Cardinals seemed to lose their ability to hit shots, allowing the Hilltoppers to make free throws and take their biggest lead of the day of 15 points with four minutes left. 

The Cardinals would be able to get the game within a couple possessions, but it wasn’t enough as the Hilltoppers pulled off the win over their in-state rivals for the first time in 13 years. 

“I know how special it is for our fans and our community, that’s what makes it even more special right there,” Stansbury said. 

WKU went 25-of-31 from the free throw line while Louisville went 5-of-7, a 20-point difference. Louisville shot 16 more shots but only made three more baskets, proving free throws made the difference in this game. 

The Hilltoppers are now 2-2 against Power Five teams this year. 

WKU will now travel across the border to take on Austin Peay on Dec. 22 in Clarksville, Tennessee. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN+.

Men’s basketball reporter Kaden Gaylord-Day can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @_KLG3.