LOUISVILLE — The legend of John Wall has grown into a national phenomenon, so you know they've heard plenty about it just 80 miles up the road.
Louisville has a deep and experienced backcourt led by two seniors, Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith, and a junior, Clark County product Preston Knowles. But the Cardinals guards know they'll have their hands full trying to contain the freshman Wall, who has emerged as a frontrunner for National Player of the Year.
One thing the U of L guards don't plan on doing, however, is taking a backseat.
"Look, John Wall is a great player," Sosa said. "You've got to give credit where credit is due. But nobody on this team is going to back down to John Wall. I feel we have some great players, too. And I'm not talking smack. We have a lot of players on this team with big egos and a lot of confidence."
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Indeed, while the Louisville guards have been inconsistent, they've all had their share of moments. Sosa is particularly familiar to Cats fans. He burst onto the scene as a freshman with a 31-point performance at Rupp Arena in a loss to a Billy Gillispie-coached Texas A&M team, and then hit the game-winning three-pointer in U of L's three-point home win over the Cats last year. Smith also has a buzzer-beater on his résumé at Marquette his freshman year.
U of L Coach Rick Pitino will rely on his veteran guards for stability in what will be a tension-filled environment in Rupp Arena on Saturday.
"We've got an experienced backcourt and that will help," he said.
The Cardinals have generated a lot of offense from their full-court press, forcing nearly 18 turnovers per game. But Wall is quick and skilled enough to slice and dice his way through pressure, which would create easy baskets for UK in transition.
Pitino pointed out a play in UK's win over Indiana last month when Wall went through three Hoosiers and finished with a left-handed dunk.
"That was an incredible play because there were three guys back," he said. "He just said, 'I will put on my Superman cape and just dunk it left-handed."
Pitino called Wall one of the better players he's seen in his lifetime.
"Because his attitude is so great," Pitino said. "He is the No. 1 high school player in the country with that kind of athleticism and a great attitude ... usually they are spoiled and pampered."
Sosa comes into Saturday's game playing the best ball of his U of L career. His 13.3 scoring average is his highest since he averaged 11.4 as a freshman. But Pitino said Sosa's value will be measured in wins and losses, not scoring average.
"I asked Edgar, 'What was your best year?" Pitino said. "He said, 'Freshman year.' I said, 'No, son, your sophomore and junior year. You may have had better individual stats (as a freshman), but your sophomore/junior years you went to two Elite Eights and a got a Big East championship. You are the point guard. If a quarterback takes his team to the Super Bowl, whether or not his numbers are good, he took them there. So Edgar had a great sophomore/junior year and he is having a very good senior year."
Knowles, the designated defensive stopper, will get his share of opportunities to contain Wall. But for all the talk about Wall, the Cards say they're just as worried about the rest of UK's stacked lineup.
"I get fired up for everybody, and it's usually my job to try and stop the other team's top player," Knowles said. "It's a great challenge, but we can't totally focus on (Wall) because they've got other great players, too."
"It's not all about John Wall," Sosa said. "We can't get too caught up in that. It's not going to be a game of one-on-one between me and John Wall. We've got to come out, take care of business and try and contain him the best we can. We've got good players. We've just got to play our game."