UK Men's Basketball

Mark Story: How Kentucky and Louisville match up — with a game prediction

Chinanu Onuaku leads Louisville in rebounding at 7.5 per game this season.
Chinanu Onuaku leads Louisville in rebounding at 7.5 per game this season. AP

How Kentucky and Louisville match up for Saturday’s game in Rupp Arena:

Small forward

The Jamal Murray who led Canada past Team USA in the Pan American Games last summer showed up in the second half of Kentucky’s 74-67 loss to Ohio State. The 6-foot-4 Ontario product hit seven three pointers and scored 27 points after halftime to almost rally UK out of a disappointing defeat. Murray is Kentucky’s leading scorer (17.1 ppg) and is the first player in UK history to hit at least one three-pointer in his first 11 career games.

Damion Lee is one of two graduate student transfers playing a huge role for Louisville. A season ago at Drexel, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Lee was the nation’s fourth-leading scorer (21.4 ppg). At U of L, Lee has scored in double figures in all 12 games and leads the team in scoring (17.3). Lee has been highly efficient, hitting 50.8 percent of his shots, 38.5 percent on three-point tries and 89.1 percent from the foul line.

Advantage: Even

Power forward

It will be interesting to see if John Calipari stays with Alex Poythress as Kentucky’s starting four man or goes back to Marcus Lee. For the 6-8, 230-pound Poythress (9.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg) this will be the fifth UK-U of L contest he’s been a part of (though he was injured and missed last season’s game). When Kentucky rallied past Louisville in the 2014 NCAA Tournament round of 16, Poythress scored five-straight points and blocked a Russ Smith shot to spark a pivotal 7-0 Cats run late in the game.

At 6-foot-10, 210-pounds, Louisville’s Ray Spalding (6.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) is all lanky potential. The freshman from Trinity High School showed his promise when he had 18 points and 12 rebounds against North Florida. Spalding has now started four games in a row, and has averaged 7 points and almost 6 rebounds (5.7) over the last three of those starts.

Advantage: Kentucky

Center

The struggles of Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere have been a dominant plot line of UK’s early season. Over the last five games, the 6-11, 225-pound Port-au-Prince, Haiti, product has missed 13 of his 19 shot attempts and has 12 total rebounds. A player with enormous offensive skill but limited competitive basketball experience, Labissiere is apt to “figure things out” at some point this season - but it may not be Saturday.

Louisville sophomore Chinanu Onuaku (pronounced chih-NAH-noo on-ooh-AHH-koo) is a 6-10, 245-pound bruiser. The younger brother of former Syracuse player Arinze Onuaku had his first career double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) against Western Kentucky last Saturday. He followed that up with 10 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots against Missouri-Kansas City. The strength of Onuaku (9.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) matched against the finesse of UK’s Labissiere should make for a fascinating contrast.

Advantage: Louisville

Shooting guard

Kentucky freshman Isaiah Briscoe (11.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is coming off a rough outing (1-of-9 field goals, three points) in the loss to Ohio State. That was an aberration for the 6-3, 202-pound Newark, N.J., product, who has scored in double figures in seven of the 10 games in which he’s played. Against a Louisville team that is almost plus-14 in rebound margin, Briscoe’s ability to work the glass could be important. His inability to make foul shots (15-of-40, 37.5 percent) could be a problem in a close game, however.

The second graduate student transfer on Rick Pitino’s roster, ex-Cleveland State standout Trey Lewis (14.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 43.1 percent three-point percentage) comes to Rupp Arena on a streak of eight-straight double-digit scoring games. A physically-mature 6-2, 185-pounds, Lewis was MVP of Louisville’s Billy Minardi Classic after scoring 38 points in two games. Lewis should feel at home in Rupp Arena - he had 15 points in Rupp in 2013-14 as Cleveland State put a scare in UK before falling 68-61.

Advantage: Louisville

Point guard

Since suffering a hyper-extended elbow in Kentucky’s victory over South Florida, sophomore Tyler Ulis (12 ppg, 5.3 assists) has made only 12-of-45 shots (6-of-25 three-pointers). So it is an open question if UK’s fiery floor general is 100 percent going into the U of L game. A season ago, the 5-9, 160-pound Ulis had a coming out party in Kentucky’s tense 58-50 victory at Louisville, scoring 14-clutch points in a game where field goals were at a premium. The Cats need that Ulis Saturday.

Former Ballard High School star Quentin Snider (10.1 ppg, 53 assists to 15 turnovers) has been a steadying influence for Louisville. The 6-1, 180-pound sophomore, Kentucky’s 2014 Mr. Basketball, should also be comfortable in Rupp Arena. He played four games there in helping Ballard to a runner-up finish in the 2013 Sweet Sixteen.

Advantage: Kentucky

Bench

Against Louisville’s size and rebounding prowess, Marcus Lee (8.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) is a key player for Kentucky. The 6-9, 224-pound junior has scored in double figures in four of his last five games - and was injured and missed most of the fifth game at UCLA. Otherwise, somebody among Derek Willis (expected back after an ankle injury kept him out of the Ohio State game), Charles Matthews, Dominique Hawkins and Isaac Humphries will likely need to make a positive contribution for the Cats to prevail against a deep Louisville team.

The loss of 6-10 Mangok Mathiang (7.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg) to a broken bone in his left foot denies Louisville of its most experienced and best interior defender. U of L, however, still has a bevy of backup big men to throw at the Wildcats. Jaylen Johnson, a 6-9, 225-pound sophomore, has averaged almost 9 points and 6 rebounds over the past three games. International 7-footers Anas Mahmoud (Egypt) and Matz Stockman (Norway) provide Louisville with 10 fouls to potentially deploy. Back after missing eight games with a sprained left knee, freshmen swingman Deng Adel (4.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg) is talented. So is 6-3 freshman guard Donovan Mitchell (three double-figure scoring games in last six).

Advantage: Louisville

Intangibles

Coming off a disconcerting performance in a loss to a mediocre Ohio State team, is Kentucky angry and circling its wagons? Or are the Cats shaken and vulnerable? Does Louisville truly believe it can win in Rupp Arena? The Cats have dominated the Cardinals in recent years. UK has beaten U of L seven of the last eight, 10 of the last 13 and leads the modern series (since 1983) 24-12. As Kentucky coach, John Calipari has lost only four games in Rupp - Baylor (2012-13), Texas A&M (2012-13), Florida (2013-14) and Arkansas (2013-14).

Advantage: Kentucky

Prediction

Louisville 72, Kentucky 70

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