Bitter rivals square off on Saturday afternoon, as the Kentucky Wildcats come calling on the fourth-ranked Louisville Cardinals.
It is the first meeting between the two since Kentucky posted a 69-61 win in the NCAA Championship Semifinals in New Orleans last March.
After defeating the Cardinals in that Final Four matchup, Kentucky went on to win the national title. However, the 2012-13 season hasn't gone quite according to the way head coach John Calipari and Big Blue Nation had hoped, as the team has already lost more games (three) than it did all of last season (two). The Wildcats, who had to retool following the mass exodus of its top players after the championship run, opened this new campaign with wins in four of its first five games, but then dropped two-in-row to fall completely out of the Top-25. To their credit, the 'Cats have rallied to win four straight, although beating up on the likes of Samford, Portland, Lipscomb and Marshall isn't likely to curry much favor with the voters.
UK has one more non-league game scheduled (vs. Eastern Michigan next Wednesday) before opening SEC action at Vanderbilt on Jan. 10.
Rick Pitino's Louisville squad comes into this clash with a near-perfect 11-1 record, the team's lone setback coming in a 76-71 loss to Duke on Nov. 24 in the title tile of the Battle 4 Atlantis event in the Bahamas. Since that time, the Cardinals have reeled off six straight victories, the most recent of which occurred last Saturday at home against Western Kentucky (78-55).
This is UofL's final non-conference game on the schedule, as the team will kick off another daunting Big East slate against visiting Providence next Wednesday.
Kentucky has more than doubled up Louisville in the all-time series, 30-14, and the 'Cats have won the last four meetings.
The Wildcats have performed well at both ends of the court this season, averaging 78.5 ppg while permitting just 61.1 ppg. They are hitting 49 percent of their field goal attempts, which includes a 35.6 percent effort from 3- point range, while limiting the opposition to 37.7 percent overall success and 32.4 percent efficiency from beyond the arc. Kentucky boasts four double-digit scorers, with Archie Goodwin's 16.0 ppg representing the team's high-water mark. Alex Poythress is next with 14.5 ppg, while Kyle Wiltjer adds 11.4 ppg and Noel Nerlens another 10.7 ppg. Nerlens grabs a club-best 9.1 rpg, helping UK stake claim to a +4.3 edge on the glass. The team is +3.1 in turnover margin. Goodwin scored 18 points and Nerlens notched a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards, but it was Ryan Harrow who made the most of his time on the court as he scored 23 points to lead the Wildcats to their recent rout of Marshall. Kentucky got off to a slow start (.351 FG percentage in the first half), but turned it on after the break by making good on 50 percent of its field goal tries. While Calipari's club went just 3-of-17 from long range, it committed only nine turnovers. The Thundering Herd shot just 29.5 percent from the floor.
Louisville has been even better this season than Kentucky, scoring 78.1 ppg while yielding a scant 55.5 ppg. The Cardinals, who have four double-digit scorers on the roster, force an average of 21.4 turnovers per game, and they lead the nation in turnover margin (+8.6). Russ Smith is netting 19.7 ppg and he also leads the team in steals with 34, while Peyton Siva (11.4 ppg, 6.3 apg), Chane Behanan (10.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Wayne Blackshear (10.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg) have all had a hand in the team's early run of success. Smith poured in 20 points, Blackshear finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, Behanan tallied 14 points and seven boards, and Montrezl Harrell came off the bench to contribute 13 points, six caroms and four blocks, all of which the Cardinals used to throttle Western Kentucky last week by 23 points. Louisville was an efficient 50.9 percent from the field, while holding the Hilltoppers to 38.8 percent accuracy. WKU was guilty of 20 turnovers in the contest, off which the Cardinals scored 26 points.