How No. 16 Kentucky (9-2) and Louisville (10-2) match up at each position — with a game prediction:
▪ Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox had 15 points, five rebounds and three assists in the Wildcats’ 83-75 loss to UCLA last Saturday — but also turned the ball over four times. The 6-foot-9, 215-pound product of Tampa, Fla., leads the Cats in scoring (15.7 ppg) and is tied for second in rebounding (5.6 rpg) but has made only nine of 32 three-point attempts over the past seven games.
▪ Louisville junior Deng Adel (team-best 15.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg) hurt Kentucky in Louisville’s 73-70 victory over the Wildcats last season in the KFC Yum Center, going for 18 points (5-of-10 field goals, 2-of-3 treys), six rebounds and two assists. In U of L’s two losses this season (at Purdue and to Seton Hall), the 6-7, 200-pound product of Melbourne, Australia, has a combined eight turnovers.
▪ Kentucky’s PJ Washington (9.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg) was born in Louisville but did not grow up there. The freshman had nine points and four boards in the loss to UCLA. The length and shot-blocking capacity of U of L’s interior defense figure to present a major challenge for the 6-7 Washington.
▪ Louisville’s Ray Spalding, the former Trinity High School standout, comes to Rupp Arena off the best game of his college career. The 6-10, 225-pound junior had a career-high 21 points to go with 16 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots to lead U of L past Grand Canyon 74-56 last Saturday. Spalding is close to averaging a double-double at 10.8 ppg and 9.6 rpg on the season and has blocked 28 shots.
▪ UK freshman Nick Richards saw Cat-killing UCLA big man Thomas Welsh go for 13 points and 11 rebounds last Saturday and now must face a very different kind of center in U of L shot-blocking specialist Anas Mahmoud. The 6-11, 240-pound Richards (8.5 ppg, team-best 6.5 rpg, team-best 17 blocked shots) has blocked at least one shot himself in seven straight games.
▪ Louisville senior Anas Mahmoud blocked nine shots in the Cardinals’ two-point escape over Albany on Dec. 20 and is the nation’s No. 2 shot blocker on the season (52 blocks). A 7-foot, 230-pound product of Cairo, Egypt, Mahmoud (8.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg) did not score in 16 minutes in U of L’s victory over UK a season ago, but he did block two shots.
▪ Kentucky redshirt freshman Hamidou Diallo made four of seven treys in UK’s home win over Virginia Tech but struggled with his jumper against UCLA (1-of-5 three-pointers, 7-of-18 field goals overall). Diallo also shot poorly (4-of-11 overall, 0-of-3 threes) in UK’s other loss this season against Kansas. On the season, the 6-5, 198-pound product of Queens, N.Y., is averaging 15.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg and 2.2 apg.
▪ Louisville sophomore VJ King (9.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg) comes to Lexington in a shooting slump, having made only 19 of 45 shots in his last six games. The 6-6, 190-pound product of Cleveland played well in U of L’s only other true road game, however, going for 17 points and six boards in the Cardinals’ 66-57 loss at Purdue on Nov. 28. King missed his only shot in three minutes against UK last year.
▪ Kentucky’s Quade Green found the going tough in the Big Easy. The freshman from Philadelphia missed all but one of his seven shots and finished with two points and three turnovers in 20 minutes in UK’s loss to UCLA in New Orleans. The 6-foot, 180-pound Green (10.2 ppg, 3.6 assists) promised the Rupp Arena crowd and the UK postgame radio audience after Kentucky’s win over Virginia Tech that the Cats would beat Louisville as a Christmas present to the BBN. We’ll see Friday if he delivers.
▪ Louisville’s Quentin Snider, the ex-Ballard High School star, was the MVP of last season’s U of L victory over UK. The 6-2, 175-pound Snider went for 22 points (on 10-of-19 shooting), six rebounds and five assists to help the Cardinals snap a four-game losing skid in the rivalry. In U of L’s two losses (at Purdue, Seton Hall), Snider shot a combined 7-of-22. The senior (12.3 ppg, 4 apg) has now scored in double figures in seven straight games, however.
▪ Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is one of UK’s most valuable players. The 6-6, 180-pound freshman from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, leads the Cats in assists (46) and steals (24) while averaging 9.6 ppg and 3.4 rpg. Sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel was Kentucky’s best player against UCLA, scoring 16 points (6-of-10 shots, 3-of-4 treys) and claiming six rebounds in 26 minutes. Gabriel is the only current Cat who played against the Cards last season, scoring two points and grabbing seven rebounds in 12 minutes. After missing the Monmouth game with a sprained ankle, sophomore center Sacha Killeya-Jones has not scored in the two games since. He could be important against U of L’s length.
▪ Louisville freshman forward Jordan Nwora (pronounced WORE-uh) has given U of L a three-point threat (10-of-22). Freshman point guard Darius Perry is contributing 4.8 ppg and 2.0 apg in 13.7 minutes. Sophomore swingman Dwayne Sutton, a former Manual star who transferred from UNC-Asheville, is bringing energy. The 6-5, 200-pound Sutton had nine rebounds against Albany, then followed that up with seven points and five boards against Grand Canyon. Though reputed as an outside shooter, sophomore guard Ryan McMahon has made his mark since returning five games ago from a broken rib as a ball hawk — he has eight steals.
In the modern Kentucky-Louisville rivalry — which begins with the original Dream Game in the 1983 NCAA Tournament — there has never been a coaching matchup like this. On the UK bench will be Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer John Calipari, a national championship (2012) on his résumé. With the fall of Rick Pitino, the U of L bench will be manned by David Padgett, a 32-year-old acting head man who will be coaching the 13th game of his life. The contrast puts Calipari in a tricky spot and gives Padgett a chance to energize a dispirited Louisville fan base after a year filled with scandal and turmoil with a “David over Goliath” coaching moment. U of L has not beaten Kentucky in Rupp Arena since the 2007-08 season, an 89-75 victory over Billy Gillispie’s first UK team.
Kentucky 74, Louisville 73