University of Louisville

WKU set for 'packed house' against No. 4 Louisville (noon, Fox Sports 1)

T.J. Price, left, averaged 15.5 points and 4.4 rebounds for Western Kentucky last season as a junior.
T.J. Price, left, averaged 15.5 points and 4.4 rebounds for Western Kentucky last season as a junior. AP

Western Kentucky coach Ray Harper watched this week as Wichita State labored at home against Alabama.

Wichita State wasn't supposed to lose the game, and the crowd wasn't going to settle for defeat. Those in attendance erupted in the final minutes as the Shockers completed the comeback effort.

Harper felt the crowd was one of the biggest factors in the end result, and he hopes fans at E.A. Diddle Arena can play a similar role at noon today when the Hilltoppers (5-4) welcome No. 4 Louisville.

"There's no question that Wichita State is a terrific team, but they have one of those programs where their fans will them to wins," Harper said. "They should've lost that basketball game. If that would've been 99 percent of the teams in college basketball, they would've lost. But not Wichita State at Wichita State. ... Those fans will them to wins. They're going to have to will us on (today). We'll need their help. It's going to have to be continuous.

"That's what good crowds and good programs have, are fans that care."

Louisville (9-0) is the highest-ranked team to visit Diddle Arena since No. 2 Georgetown and Patrick Ewing escaped with an overtime win in 1982.

The game was announced Tuesday as an official sellout. It'll be broadcast on Fox Sports 1.

The Cardinals haven't been to Bowling Green since 2010, when their 25th-ranked group walloped WKU 114-82 behind 16 3-pointers.

"It means a lot," WKU senior guard T.J. Price said. "We've just got to give our best, not just for us, but for the fans, too, because I'm pretty sure it's going to be a packed house. It's sold out, so we've got to come with energy, and it should be fun."

No current Topper was on the 2010-11 team that hosted Louisville, but they have been a part of some electric atmospheres, like last season's crowd of 7,523 who showed to watch WKU take on Ole Miss.

Sophomore guard Chris Harrison-Docks said he expects today to be "like Ole Miss last year, but times 10."

Louisville coach Rick Pitino expects about the same.

"(Harper) has a terrific team this year," Pitino said Thursday on his weekly radio show. "They can shoot the heck out of it. They've got outstanding talent. They've got size. It's going to be a sold-out place. We know what it's like going in there. We've had tough games with them."

The Hilltoppers have lost 22 of the last 25 matchups with Louisville, including five straight. Their last win came in 2008 in Nashville against a Cardinal team ranked third in the nation.

That was also the last time WKU beat a top-five opponent. It's 6-26 all-time against top-five foes and has lost eight straight to ranked opponents since knocking off No. 24 Vanderbilt in 2009.

"With Louisville, it's one of those things that you have to be mentally prepared, as well as physically prepared," Harrison-Docks said. "They're a team that goes on such quick runs, that if you relax for one second, you know they could be up 10. Our biggest focus will be knowing our scouting report, being disciplined on offense and defense, and if they do hit a couple shots, just sustain ourselves and keep grinding."

Today's game will be Louisville's first true road contest of the season.

The Cardinals do have some solid victories on their resume, including one at home over Ohio State. They also notched two neutral-site wins against Minnesota in Puerto Rico and Indiana in New York.

They're outscoring opponents by an average of 25 points per game and pulling down 11 more rebounds per contest than the competition. They've also forced more than 19 turnovers per game and have four players averaging 12.8 points or better.

"Take care of the basketball," Harper said. "We have to have a lot of different guys step up. Their pressure is relentless. Defensively, they're not one of the best defensive teams in their league. They're one of the best defensive teams in the country. They're relentless. They never give up on plays. They're athletic, so we're going to have to have a lot of different guys play well."

Louisville is led by junior forward Montrezl Harrell, a powerful big man known for his freakish athleticism and thunderous dunks. Harrell turned down the NBA draft in the offseason to return to school, where he's averaging 17 points and 10.4 rebounds.

Sophomore guard Terry Rozier (15.1 ppg), senior guard Chris Jones (12.9) and senior forward Wayne Blackshear (12.8) are other top scoring threats. Each of them averages at least 4.7 rebounds.

The Cards' prowess on the boards is a main concern for WKU, which was outrebounded 34-27 by Chicago State on Wednesday after allowing 16 offensive rebounds.

"We can't get outrebounded by seven or eight and give up 16 offensive rebounds (today)," Harper said. "They know how to stick it back in the hole. If they get 16 offensive rebounds, that'll probably be 32 points for Montrezl Harrell."

Pitino praised WKU senior forward George Fant as a "great low-post player" and said the Tops are dangerous because of their ability to shoot the 3 from many positions. Price will also be a main focus because of his ability to score in multiple ways, Pitino said.

The Cardinals are coming off a 68-57 win Sunday over UNC Wilmington. Pitino was greatly disappointed with that effort and said in a brief postgame news conference that his squad would've lost to WKU on that night.

"They shoot it at the 1, 2 and 3," Pitino said. "They've got great length coming off the bench with some young players. We're going to have to play an Indiana or Ohio State game to come away with a victory. If we don't bring that type of execution, we're not going to come away with a victory."

Notes

Louisville freshman Shaqquan Aaron will be eligible today for the first time this year. The 6-foot-7 forward was ruled ineligible for the team's first nine games for receiving "extra benefits related to housing" in high school. ... The Tops have committed 17 total turnovers in their last two games after averaging 16.7 over their first seven outings. ... Today's game would be the 100th start of Fant's career.

— Follow Assistant Sports Editor Zach Greenwell on Twitter at twitter.com/zach_greenwell or visit bgdailynews.com.

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