How Kentucky and Louisville match up

mstory@herald-leader.comDecember 28, 2012 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

Point guard

After scoring 26 points combined in his first six UK games, Ryan Harrow went for 23 points (with four rebounds and four assists) against Marshall. For the season, the Kentucky sophomore has 20 assists to only five turnovers but does the reed-thin Harrow have the strength to hold up against Louisville's body-on-body pressure?

U of L's Peyton Siva has never played well against UK (8-for-34 field goals; 1-for-10 three-pointers; 11 assists vs. 10 turnovers) in four games. But this year, Kentucky does not have the kind of defensive length on the perimeter (think DeAndre Liggins, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) that has helped thwart Siva in the past.

Advantage: Louisville

Shooting guard

Kentucky senior Julius Mays is mired in a shooting slump, having made only seven of 29 shots in UK's last three games, one of 13 on three-point tries. However, in Kentucky's only other true road game this season, the fifth-year senior played well (16 points on 5-for-10 shooting) at Notre Dame.

The aim of Louisville's Russ Smith has been a bit errant recently, too, with the precocious junior shooting 13-for-37 in his prior three games, 4-for-19 from three-point range. Having gone to the foul line 26 times in those three games (making 23), Smith (19.7 ppg) has continued to find ways to score, however. A season ago in Rupp Arena, "Russdiculous" hit the Cats for 30.

Advantage: Louisville

Small forward

If UK stays with its small lineup, Archie Goodwin slides into the three position. The dynamic 6-foot-41/2 freshman (15.8 ppg) has scored in double figures in every game but one, but that was a three-point effort on the road at Notre Dame. To have any chance of an upset, Kentucky needs Goodwin's "A game."

Sophomore Wayne Blackshear comes in off back-to-back strong games vs. Florida International (18 points, eight rebounds) and Western Kentucky (17 points, eight rebounds). In those two games, the husky 6-5, 230-pounder has hit 14 of 25 shots and seven of 14 three-pointers.

Advantage: Kentucky

Power forward

UK needs the assertive Alex Poythress (14.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg) that hit Duke for 20 points and eight rebounds and not the Poythress that was MIA at Notre Dame (three points, two rebounds).

After a slow start, Louisville sophomore Chane Behanan has found his game. The Most Outstanding Player of last season's NCAA West Region is averaging 16.7 points and seven rebounds in his last three games. Against the Cats in the 2012 Final Four, Behanan had 10 points and nine rebounds.

Advantage: Louisville

Center

Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel has been a stat stuffer so far (10.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 3.7 blocks, 2.7 steals) this season. But is the 6-10, 228-pounder strong enough to hold up against a bulkier U of L front line? If the game is close, Louisville might go to a "Hack-a-Nerlens" strategy. Noel is only 24 of 45 from the foul line.

After missing seven games with a broken bone in his left wrist, Louisville junior Gorgui Dieng is expected back for UK. The Cardinals need the 6-11 shot blocker's length against UK, but will he be rusty? Against Anthony Davis in last season's NCAA semifinals, Dieng had seven points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.

Advantage: Kentucky

Bench

Kyle Wiltjer is the only UK player who played meaningful minutes against U of L last season, scoring four points with two rebounds in the regular-season win and five points with one board in the Final Four victory. Wiltjer has made nine of his last 14 three-pointers after being mired in a 5-for-32 slump. Willie Cauley-Stein, the 7-foot freshman, is averaging 8 ppg and 7 rpg in UK's last four games.

Louisville has four players off the bench who are averaging double-digit minutes. George Mason transfer Luke Hancock (19 points vs. Missouri; 11 at Memphis), sophomore guard Kevin Ware (6.4 ppg in last five contests) and burly freshman power forward Montrezl Harrell (13 points, six rebounds vs. WKU) are capable of doing damage. The Cardinals may need the height of 6-10 sophomore Zach Price and 6-9 senior Stephan Van Treese.

Advantage: Louisville

Intangibles

Kentucky will be walking into a super-charged KFC Yum Center. John Calipari at Kentucky is 4-0 against Louisville, including a victory in last season's Final Four. U of L's Rick Pitino has lost seven of his last nine games against UK. This year, U of L has more experience, more depth and is ranked No. 4 in the country, while Kentucky is unranked. Louisville has been pointing to this game since last season's national semifinals loss to UK in New Orleans.

Advantage: Louisville.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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