In the past 10 installments of the Kentucky-Louisville basketball rivalry, neither team has put up more than 80 points in a single game.
The always anticipated matchup between, arguably, the two fiercest rivals in college basketball hasn’t lacked for excitement in recent years, but the quality of offensive play in some of these rough-and-tumble affairs has left much to be desired.
If Rick Pitino is telling the truth about his approach to Wednesday night’s renewal, the buckets could be bountiful.
On Monday night, Pitino called last weekend’s UK-North Carolina classic “as exciting a college basketball game as I’ve seen in quite some time.” Though no stranger to hyperbole, Pitino will find plenty who agree with that statement.
“Both teams (played) what the fans want to see — a very entertaining style,” he said. “This Kentucky team — although they’ve had great teams every year — is much more difficult to prepare for than past teams, because of the speed that they play at. They play at a pace that’s incredible, gives you nightmares to try and defend.
“But I know that that’s the right style for their team. And certainly it’s a very entertaining style.”
The assumption — based on past seasons — would be that Pitino would do his best to make Wednesday night’s game a grinder.
The U of L coach acknowledged that he doesn’t have the athletes UK does. He said his bigs don’t run the floor quite as fast as the Cats’. But he did emphasize playing at a faster pace during the preseason, and he implied Monday that his guards and wings can get up and down the floor with Kentucky’s players.
“We’re going to try and do it,” he said. “We don’t want to let our fans down either. So, let’s play ping pong.
“We’re not going to slow it down. What you have to do is — you have to make sure you don’t turn the ball over, because steals lead to dunks for them. You have to understand that they’re going to inbound the ball like Carolina, very quickly.”
The only squad to score 80 points in a game in this rivalry since John Calipari took over the UK program in 2009? It was the Cardinals, who won 80-77 in 2012 for Pitino’s only victory over Calipari in nine tries with their current teams.
This Kentucky team ... is much more difficult to prepare for than past teams, because of the speed that they play at. They play at a pace that’s incredible, gives you nightmares to try and defend.
Rick Pitino, Louisville coach
In talking about the challenges of defending UK’s fast-paced style, Pitino mentioned freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox as a primary component of what makes the Cats go.
Fox could’ve been a Cardinal.
“We recruited De’Aaron Fox hard,” Pitino said. “He was my favorite player I’ve seen maybe in the last three or four years, in terms of what he brings to the table. I love De’Aaron Fox as a basketball player.”
Fox did not earn a UK scholarship offer until the summer before his senior year and eventually signed with the Cats that fall. Until UK got serious, Louisville was considered a possible favorite in his recruitment.
Fox told USA Today last spring that if he hadn’t picked UK, he would have played for Pitino.
“I love the way Coach Pitino plays his guards; I’ve always said that,” Fox said in April. “That up-and-down style, pressing a lot; I really feel like I would’ve fit in well there.
“Coach Cal gets you ready for the NBA, and that’s the ultimate goal. That put him over everyone else. That’s hard to compete with.”
On Monday night, Pitino mentioned Fox as a possible No. 1 overall draft pick.
U of L sophomore Ray Spalding was the top-rated recruit in the state of Kentucky for the class of 2015, coming out of Louisville Trinity as the No. 26 overall prospect in the country, according to the 247Sports rankings.
Spalding — a 6-foot-10, 215-pound forward — was seen as a raw talent with tremendous upside, a player that might need more time than other star recruits to realize his full potential.
Pitino lauded Spalding on Monday night as the Cards’ leader in deflections — the coach’s favorite hustle stat, UK fans might recall — and said he’s still evolving as a player.
“Ray’s a terrific athlete. His next step is to be a terrific basketball player,” Pitino said. “Learning how to ball fake. Learning how to stay in his stance without reaching in. Learning how to block out. He needs to learn how to become a basketball player, and then once he does that, you have yourself a professional basketball player.”
Spalding is averaging 7.3 points and 4.8 rebounds in 18.8 minutes per game this season.
Kentucky vs. Louisville in the Calipari era
Jan. 2, 2010
Dec. 31, 2010
Dec. 31, 2011
Mar. 31, 2012
Dec. 29, 2012
Dec. 28, 2013
Mar. 28, 2014
Dec. 27, 2014
Dec. 26, 2015
x-NCAA Tournament game