Five things to watch when Kentucky plays Louisville in the NCAA Tournament national semifinals on Saturday
The Big Blue Nation has proven over the years that it travels like no other fan base, but Planet Red knows a thing or two about how to infiltrate an arena. Expect UK to have the majority of seats in the Superdome, but U of L will be well-represented. So expect CBS to feast on the drama with numerous crowd shots of tense fans, excited fans, despondent fans, happy fans, sad fans — of both colors. Let's just hope the network doesn't get so preoccupied with what's happening in the stands that it misses what's happening on the floor.
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Kentucky dominated the boards when the two teams met in December. Dominated is actually too soft a word. The Cats outrebounded the Cards 57-31, the plus-26 margin a season-high for UK and a season-low for U of L. In fact, no other team outrebounded Louisville by more than 15. Kentucky grabbed 20 offensive rebounds to 21 defensive boards for Louisville. No Card grabbed more than five rebounds. Now, Gorgui Dieng averages nine rebounds a game; Chane Behanan 7.4. But Kentucky's Anthony Davis has double-digit rebound totals in six of his seven post-season games. Terrence Jones has done that in four of seven. To have a chance, Louisville has to crash the glass.
The pace of the race
Every team has tried every tempo to try to beat Kentucky this season. Teams have played fast. Teams have played slow. Teams have tried to mix it up. John Calipari said Thursday he thought the game would be played in the 90s. But Louisville tried to slow the pace in Lexington. That led to a marathon of fouls and free throws, but it did keep Louisville close. The game was tied at 40 in the second half. Of late, teams have tried to speed up Kentucky in an effort to (a) tire UK's short rotation, and (b) get Marquis Teague to play out of control. Florida pushed the tempo, and lost 74-71. Indiana really pushed the tempo, and lost 102-90. What will Louisville do?
Davis vs. Dieng
Kentucky center Anthony Davis is from Chicago. Louisville center Gorgui Dieng is from Senegal. Davis was ranked as the No. 1 college prospect coming out of high school. Dieng was on very few watch lists. Yet if Davis is the best player in the country, Dieng is one of the most improved players in the country. That doesn't mean the Louisville sophomore can match Davis, but he will have to try to neutralize UK's Spiderman, who has posted eight double-doubles in his last 11 games.
There will be two. One will be before the game, one after. John Calipari and Rick Pitino can say whatever they want, but we all know they are not chums. They are too much alike to like each other. They are intense competitors and aggressive recruiters fighting over the same crazy piece of real estate. But this is a public setting, on national television, so they will yuck-it-up in the pre-game handshake. But what about the post-game handshake? One will win. One will lose. That post-game handshake will be the one to watch.