Clean, old-fashioned hate is the name of the college football rivalry between Georgia Tech and Georgia…with all due respect to those storied programs, that title should really belong to the Louisville-Kentucky basketball rivalry. One only needs to point to the fight between Louisville and Kentucky fans at a Georgetown, Kentucky dialysis clinic to truly understand the hate between the fan bases. And while the game might not mean as much to the players, any top five matchup is sure to bring out the best in both teams. The question in this game is whether Louisville’s best will be enough. Thus far this season, Kentucky has looked like it has the potential to be an all-time great college basketball team. John Calipari’s squad has used its incredible size to its advantage and has beat every team it has played by at least ten points. Teams are shooting only 32% against the Cats on two-point field goals and only 27% from beyond the arc.
For Louisville to have any chance in this game, its offense will have to improve. Despite having a lineup featuring maybe the biggest matchup nightmare in college basketball (Montrezl Harrell) and another potential NBA first-rounder in Terry Rozier, Rick Pitinio’s squad has struggled to create in the half-court. Inconsistency from Senior forward Wayne Blackshear (who scored a career-high 31 points in Louisville’s last game following a season-low 5 points in Louisville’s previous game) hasn’t helped. But Louisville’s biggest problem on offense has probably been Chris Jones’ inability to be a distributor in the Cardinals’ offense. Louisville really hasn’t even run many offensive sets this year save for their last game against Cal-State Northridge. Rick Pitino’s teams have a way of suddenly finding their offense in late-January, but doing so now against this team would probably be a welcomed change.
Why is this game so important to Louisville? In the grand scheme of the season, it’s just one game. But in the spectrum of the rivalry? It may mean more. UK is 6-1 against Louisville since John Calipari took over for Billy Gillespie, including two wins in the NCAA tournament. Despite the storybook ending being 40 minutes within their reach, Louisville fans may want to cling to hope in the Belk Bowl against Georgia to get them through the holidays. This particular litter of cats may be the most talented ever. And that’s saying something about a program with 8 national titles. Willie Cauley-Stein is emerging as a potential Player of the Year candidate thanks to his ability to finish at the rim and keep opponents from doing so; UK’s backup backcourt may be more talented than the 6’6 Harrison twins starting in front of them; Karl-Anthony Towns may be the best player in the entire country and he’s not even averaging 20 minutes per game.
U of L is the best team UK will face in the regular season this year, and beating the Cards in the YUM! Center is never an easy task. But let’s be real: John Calipari always has his Cats ready to play in big games, and Rick Pitino’s team, while talented in its own right, has no chance if the Wildcats play their best game. No team in the country does.
*Section Photo credit to Andy Lyons, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Jamie Rhodes, USA Today Sports