Cats await a lesson in hostility

Emotions will be high at Rupp

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 2, 2010 

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It's the Kentucky-Louisville game. So UK All-America candidate Patrick Patterson expects the Cat-mosphere in Rupp Arena on Saturday to be "twice as much crazy as it's been all year long."

That sounds about right. The game creates about twice as much emotion and drama as any game Kentucky plays each season.

With three freshmen in the starting five and two other first-year players among its top reserves, Kentucky faces the potential problem of a game against Louisville adversely affecting the newcomers (i.e. the core of the team).

"I wasn't that prepared," Patterson said. "I didn't know what to expect. I'd never been in that type of atmosphere before.

"It's extreme hatred, I guess you could say."

As a freshman, Patterson committed as many turnovers (six) as he scored points (six) against Louisville. To put that in perspective, the six turnovers remain a career high. It was also one of only nine games in his three seasons that Patterson failed to score double-digit points.

Patterson made only three of 14 shots against the Cardinals as a freshman. He's missed more shots only once in three seasons.

That game apparently prepared Patterson for the hoopla. As a sophomore, he scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds against Louisville.

While noting that high-profile games against North Carolina and Connecticut can help prepare UK's newcomers, Patterson acknowledged that the fan electricity in Rupp Arena must be treated with care.

"A lot of us enjoy hearing the stuff from the crowd and enjoy playing to the crowd and entertaining the crowd," he said. "... I'm sure my teammates will start playing to that. It'll get you off track (and) off focus.

"I'll tell my teammates, you can listen to what the fans say. You can read the signs. But make sure you concentrate on the game."

UK Coach John Calipari said he would talk to the newcomers about how to handle the UK-U of L atmosphere.

"What happens is you're so anxious to get started," he said. "You look like you're exhausted. So you look like you're running in cement for the first two minutes."

Players should signal they need a breather, even in the game's first minute, if they need to compose themselves, Calipari said.

Noting earlier comments made by Louisville players, Calipari said he expected the Cardinals to be ready.

"I understand they're coming in hyped and ready to play," he said. "I fully expect that their players will play as well as they have all year. Fully expect it. I don't have any doubt that will happen."

UK wing Darius Miller said the Cats were preparing for Louisville to press and shoot threes, the signature strategies of Rick Pitino teams.

Calipari suggested that UK could be "absolutely smoked" if Louisville gets hot from three-point range. As of the NCAA's Dec. 20 statistics, U of L ranked No. 26 among all Division I teams in three-point baskets per game (8.6). UK ranked 235th in three-point defense (opponents shooting 35.8 percent).

"They're going to take 25 to 30 threes, minimum," Calipari said. "What if they make 18, which we had done to us (by Sam Houston State)?"

Calipari answered his rhetorical question. "Then it's been a heck of a start to the season," he said.

Translation: UK's record will fall to 14-1, depriving the team of its first 15-0 start since Dan Issel's senior season of 1969-70.

"Throw the records out the window," Calipari said. "Throw home-court advantage out the window. When you're bombing away (with) threes, that home-court can go away quickly."

As for pressure defense, Calipari scoffed at Pitino's earlier suggestion that UK's freshman point guard sensation, John Wall, could not be pressed.

"OK, you've been around him," Calipari said of Pitino. "What does that mean to you? He also said we shoot it too well to really play a lot of zone. What does that mean?"

Pitino's credibility aside, Calipari spoke of Louisville using attacking pressure defense against a UK team that ranks 292nd in turnovers per game in the latest NCAA stats.

"They're long, active, aggressive," the UK coach said. "They'll come up and attack you. They're not waiting for you to come. They're grabbing, holding, pushing, kneeing, hipping. They're playing. They're balling."

In other words, Louisville will play the way that thrilled UK fans when Pitino's UK teams did the grabbing, holding, pushing, kneeing and hipping.

Now, UK fans figure to cry bloody murder, which would complicate Calipari's why-worry-be-happy mantra.

"If it's life and death, you die a lot," he said of the emotional stakes. "Just enjoy this."

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