Playing with a hyperextended right elbow, Kentucky's Andrew Harrison scored 20 points and made seven of nine free throws in UK's stirring victory over Midwest Region top seed Wichita State. The 6-foot-6 freshman has scored in double figures in four of UK's last five games. One area of concern against Rick Pitino's trapping defenses, however, Harrison has committed 12 turnovers (versus eight assists) in two NCAA Tournament games.
Louisville's Chris Jones has struggled with his shot (5-for-19 field-goal attempts) through two games in the tournament. The 5-11 junior-college transfer from Memphis led the American Athletic Conference in steals (2.3 a game). Jones played well against UK in the regular-season matchup, scoring 18 points on 7-for-13 field-goal shooting.
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Aaron Harrison has taken his game to another level for Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 18.5 points and shooting 12-for-23 (6-for-11 on three-point shots). Yet like his twin brother, Aaron Harrison also has more turnovers (five) than assists (two) during the Big Dance.
Louisville All-American Russ Smith is the only player in the Cardinals' rich history to compile at least 1,800 career points (1,885), 350 assists (375) and 250 steals (256). Smith was off his game in the first weekend of the NCAA tourney, shooting a combined 6-for-19 with 13 turnovers. Suffice to say, U of L needs better from the player who scored 30 points in Rupp Arena in the 2011-12 season against Kentucky's eventual NCAA championship team.
In UK's opening two NCAA Tournament games, 7-foot freshman Dakari Johnson scored three points in 32 minutes of play. In the Cats' 56-49 victory over Kansas State, Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky's 7-foot sophomore, had eight rebounds, four blocked shots and four steals. In UK's 73-66 regular-season win over Louisville, Cauley-Stein had only two points but grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked three shots.
Louisville's Stephan Van Treese is the epitome of a player who knows his role. The burly 6-9, 245-pound senior is not a scorer (2.9 ppg) but he had seven rebounds in the Cardinals' victory over Manhattan and eight in the win against Saint Louis.
In the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky's Julius Randle produced his 21st and 22nd double-doubles of the year. Randle had 19 points and 15 rebounds against Kansas State, then came back with 13 points, 10 rebounds and an impressive six assists (versus one turnover) in the Wildcats' victory over Wichita State. In UK's regular-season win over Louisville, the Cardinals could not stop Randle (17 points in 21 minutes) but cramping did.
Louisville's Montrezl Harrell is no slouch in the double-double category himself — he has 11 in the past 21 games. The 6-8, 235-pound sophomore had 12 points and 13 rebounds against Manhattan and 10 and 11 against Saint Louis. Harrell is the only Louisville front-court player with the physical capabilities to combat Kentucky's frontline. It is imperative for the Cardinals' chances that he stay out of foul trouble and play well.
Kentucky's James Young was the star of UK's Dec. 28 victory over Louisville with 18 points and 10 rebounds. In UK's round-of-32 victory over Wichita State, the 6-6 freshman had one of his best games of the season. Young went for 13 points (on 5-for-9 shooting) and eight rebounds and scored five cold-blooded points in the game's last three minutes.
Louisville's Luke Hancock was Most Outstanding Player of last season's Final Four and his game has elevated again under the bright lights of the big tournament. The 6-6 senior had 16 points against Manhattan, including eight clutch points in the final minutes that allowed U of L to escape an upset. Hancock, a transfer from George Mason, came back with 21 points against Saint Louis. A crafty defender, Hancock has seven steals so far in the NCAA Tournament. In two career games vs. UK, however, Hancock has averaged four points.
John Calipari essentially went with a seven-man rotation in Kentucky's first two games of the NCAA Tournament. Though coming off the bench, Willie Cauley-Stein is one of the most important players to Kentucky's Final Four hopes because of his defensive presence. Alex Poythress had three points and two rebounds against Kansas State.
Junior swingman Wayne Blackshear, a former starter, has contributed solid minutes in both of Louisville's NCAA Tournament victories, averaging 6.0 points while hitting five of six field-goal attempts. Louisville freshman point guard Terry Rozier had an impressive first season in red and black (7.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, only 22 turnovers all year) but he has not yet made much of an impact in the NCAA tourney — four points total. Mangok Mathiang, a 6-10 freshman, is raw offensively (3.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg) but he blocked four UK shots in Rupp Arena in the regular-season meeting.
For the second time in three years, our state's marquee rivalry gets the national platform of an NCAA Tournament showcase. Two years ago, when the Cats and Cards met in the Final Four, Kentucky was a prohibitive favorite and Louisville had made a surprise run to the national semifinals. This year, both teams and both fan bases enter the game with similar expectations of victory. Could that make this meeting even more intense than the Final Four game? As for omens, pick your statistic: Louisville Coach Rick Pitino is 11-0 in NCAA Tournament round-of-16 games; since he became Kentucky coach, John Calipari is 5-1 against Louisville.