UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky expects physical challenge from Louisville

Kentucky guard Darius Miller reacted to hitting a shot against North Carolina on Dec. 3. The Cats will need a similar intensity to withstand Louisville's pressure on Saturday.
mark cornelison |
Kentucky guard Darius Miller reacted to hitting a shot against North Carolina on Dec. 3. The Cats will need a similar intensity to withstand Louisville's pressure on Saturday. mark cornelison | ©2011

Yes, Kentucky played ranked and/or "name" opponents in Kansas, North Carolina, Indiana and, if you're charitable, St. John's. But Saturday is different. It's not redundant. It's Louisville.

"More toughness," UK freshman shot blocker/dunker Anthony Davis said Friday of the game's distinction. "Because this is going to be a tough game. A lot of scrappiness."

Senior Darius Miller, a veteran of 15 games against either Louisville, North Carolina, Indiana or Connecticut, noted a difference in facing the Cardinals.

"They probably play more physical than those guys," he said, meaning other marquee UK opponents.

For UK Coach John Calipari, toughness has been a theme he's preached to his freshman-dependent team repeatedly this season. He expects to repeat himself later this season, which he suggested made this UK-U of L game a signpost for what's ahead.

"Because everyone will play us that way," he said of the, uh, hands-on approach he expects from Louisville.

"You've got to beat them shooting threes."

In the latest NCAA statistics, Davis ranked second nationally in shot blocking. UK ranked No. 1 in blocks and field-goal defense. So scoring around the basket can be difficult. But the Cats ranked only 80th in three-point defense. Despite Coach Rick Pitino being synonymous with perimeter shooting, U of L only ranked 200th in three-pointers per game (5.8) and 222nd in three-point accuracy (31.5 percent).

Opponents will want to get to the foul line, and, conversely, be physical without fouling, Calipari said.

"That's the M.O.," he said. "We all know it. You know it. The fans know it.

"So (U of L and other opponents) get in there and ...grab and hold and push in the back."

Earlier this week, Calipari went so far as to suggest "bite" and "claw" as tactics UK will see.

"All stuff we have to feel so we can take that next stride up," Calipari said.

Before working the Kentucky-Lamar game on Wednesday, ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes gave UK a decided advantage in sheer talent. But he also noted the mileage U of L gets from its tenacity.

"Louisville last year won 25 games with a bunch of guys that are not going to be pros," Dykes said, "and not worrying about being pros. Louisville plays with an edge and energy level and toughness."

Those are attributes any coach, including Calipari, admires.

"They're playing," Calipari said in the sense of all-out competitiveness. "They're ballin'. They're not afraid to get after you. They're getting up in you. They are playing to be the aggressor."

There's a limit to matching competitive fire with competitive fire. The UK-U of L game in Rupp Arena two years ago was highly flammable. Television cameras caught Calipari warning a U of L player not to try to bully hard-edged freshman Eric Bledsoe. Later, a scrum for a loose ball ended with another UK freshman, DeMarcus Cousins, placing a forearm into the head area of a U of L player.

"It's never going to be, from my side, a Cincinnati-Xavier," Calipari said in reference to the ugliness at the end of this season's game between cross-town rivals. "Our players don't feel any hatred or animosity toward their players."

Though from Chicago and claiming not to have watched U of L play nor Pitino coach, Davis acknowledged being familiar with the distaste each fan base holds for the other.

"Lots of tweets," Davis said. "'Beat Louisville. They suck,' and everything like that."

For the players, it's a challenge, but not a holy war.

"How we play against the press," Doron Lamb said. "How they pressure us."

Calipari spoke of a physical test that Kentucky faces.

"You've got to be strong with the ball and protect yourself," he said. " ... You can't be afraid of body-to-body contact, and finish around the goal."

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