Mark Story

How Kentucky and Louisville match up — with a game prediction

John Calipari praises PJ Washington’s game in win over North Carolina

Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari talks about sophomore forward PJ Washington, who just missed a triple-double in the Wildcats' 80-72 win over North Carolina on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018 in the CBS Sports Classic.
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Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari talks about sophomore forward PJ Washington, who just missed a triple-double in the Wildcats' 80-72 win over North Carolina on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018 in the CBS Sports Classic.

How No. 16 Kentucky (9-2) and Louisville (9-3) match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Small forward

Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson (team-high 16.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg) had a torrid shooting hand in Kentucky’s back-to-back wins over Utah and North Carolina. The 6-foot-6, 211-pound freshman from South Hill, Va., made a combined 15 of 20 field goal tries and 10 of 14 three-point shots and averaged 22.5 ppg in the two games.

Louisville’s Dwayne Sutton is undersized at 6-5, 215 pounds, but is long on effort. A former standout at Manual High School who transferred to U of L from UNC Asheville, Sutton is the Cardinals’ second-leading scorer (9.7 ppg) and rebounder (6.2 rpg). A season ago, Sutton went scoreless against UK as the Cardinals absorbed a 90-61 drubbing in Rupp Arena.

Advantage: Kentucky

Keldon Johnson.JPG
Kentucky freshman Keldon Johnson (3) leads the Wildcats in scoring (16.5 ppg) and is UK’s third-leading rebounder (5.4 rpg). Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Power forward

Kentucky’s PJ Washington was within shouting distance of a triple-double — 11 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists — in UK’s 80-72 upset of then-No. 9 North Carolina last Saturday. On the season, the 6-8, 228-pound sophomore from Dallas is averaging 13.3 ppg, a team-best 8.5 rpg and is shooting 52 percent on field goals and 45 percent on three-pointers. Last year, Washington had 16 points, seven rebounds and two assists vs. U of L.

Louisville’s Jordan Nwora is an emerging star. A 6-7, 225-pound sophomore from Buffalo, N.Y., Nwora had 23 points and 10 rebounds against Tennessee and 24 and 14 at Indiana. On the season, Nwora leads the Cardinals in scoring (17.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.5) and is shooting 50.4 percent from the field.

Advantage: Even

nwora.jpg
Jordan Nwora, a 6-7 sophomore from Buffalo, N.Y., leads Louisville in scoring and rebounding this season. Timothy D. Easley AP

Center

Kentucky’s Reid Travis is second on the Wildcats in scoring (15.1 ppg) and rebounding (6.5 rpg) while shooting 56.5 percent. As UK has faced better competition in December, the graduate transfer from Stanford has turned up his game. In four contests this month, the 6-8, 238-pound Minneapolis product has averaged 17.8 ppg and 7.0 rpg.

Louisville’s Stephen Enoch is a transfer from Connecticut who sat out last season. A 6-10, 260-pound junior, Enoch is averaging 9.2 ppg and 4.6 rpg while making 55.7 percent of his shots and 87.9 percent of his free throws (29 of 33). Against quality foes, Enoch has been foul-prone — four fouls in 13 minutes vs. Tennessee; three fouls in seven minutes vs. Michigan State; and four fouls in 19 minutes at Indiana.

Advantage: Kentucky

A three-year captain at Stanford before graduating and transferring to Kentucky, Reid Travis says leadership comes naturally.

Shooting guard

Kentucky’s Tyler Herro has not shot well when the Wildcats have left Rupp Arena. In UK’s three neutral floor games (losses to Duke and Seton Hall, the win over North Carolina), the 6-5, 195-pound freshman has made 14 of 41 field goals, four of 20 three-pointers. Overall, the Milwaukee product is averaging 12.4 ppg and 3.9 rpg and is second on the team in assists (26) and steals (15).

Louisville’s Darius Perry (7.8 ppg, 2.3 apg) has been hit and miss against good teams. The 6-2, 195-pound sophomore from Marietta, Ga., had eight points and eight assists vs. Tennessee and nine points in 15 minutes at Seton Hall. However, Perry had only four points vs. Marquette; scored two in the home win over Michigan State; and missed all seven of his shots at Indiana while going scoreless.

Advantage: Kentucky

UK freshman guard Tyler Herro scored 17 points in Kentucky's 88-61 victory over Utah on Saturday. He's looking forward to the Cats' next two games against North Carolina and Louisville.

Point guard

Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans (3.8 ppg, team bests of 34 assists and 18 steals) was the hero of UK’s upset of North Carolina. This, even though the 6-3, 192-pound freshman had only seven points and had more turnovers (five) than assists (three). However, Hagans’ zealous ball hawking (eight steals, to tie the UK school record) discombobulated North Carolina. Hagans’ defense vs. UNC earned the Cartersville, Ga., product SEC Freshman of the Week honors.

Louisville’s Christen Cunningham, a former standout at Henry Clay High School, is a graduate transfer from Samford. The 6-2, 190-pound senior (8.6 ppg, team-high 34 assists) has played well in big games for U of L. Cunningham had 13 points and five assists in Louisville’s upset of then-No. 9 Michigan State; 16 points in the one-point loss at Indiana; and 16 in the overtime loss to Marquette. Cunningham missed the Cardinals’ most recent game, vs. Robert Morris last Friday, while in the concussion protocol. According to media reports in Louisville, he has returned to practice this week.

Advantage: Louisville

cunningham.jpg
Former Henry Clay Blue Devils standout Christen Cunningham, a graduate transfer from Samford, is averaging 8.6 points and 3.1 assists as Louisville’s starting point guard. Timothy D. Easley AP

Bench

Kentucky sophomore big man Nick Richards (3.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg) gave the Wildcats energy (six rebounds and two blocked shots in 10 minutes) vs. North Carolina. Freshman guard Immanuel Quickley (7.1 ppg, 20 assists) had only two points vs. UNC after averaging 10 ppg in the prior two contests. Redshirt freshman wing Jemarl Baker (2 ppg) buried two treys late against Utah but went 0-of-3 from deep vs. North Carolina. Talented freshman big man EJ Montgomery (5.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg) could be an “X factor” for the Cats vs. U of L.

Louisville’s Ryan McMahon had 24 points in the upset of Michigan State. Otherwise, the 6-foot redshirt junior from Sarasota, Fla., has struggled with his outside shot (17-of-52 treys). Junior forward V.J. King (6.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg) had 12 points vs. the Cats last season in Rupp Arena. Malik Williams, a 6-11, 245-pound sophomore, has been productive (6.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg). The Fort Wayne, Ind., product had eight points and five rebounds in 15 minutes vs. UK last year. Khwan Fore (3.4 ppg), a 6-foot, 185-pound graduate transfer from Richmond, is steady (16 assists vs. seven turnovers).

Advantage: Louisville

VJ King
Louisville forward V.J. King (0) had 12 points and four rebounds against Kentucky last season in Rupp Arena. This season, King lost his starting position at U of L after the first five games. Associated Press

Intangibles and history

Before what figures to be a raucous U of L crowd, this will be the first true road game for Kentucky. Under John Calipari, UK is 3-6 in its first game of the year in a foe’s home arena — including a 73-70 loss to Louisville at the KFC Yum Center in 2016-17.

New U of L head man Chris Mack makes his rivalry debut vs. UK. As Xavier head coach, Mack went 6-3 against crosstown rival Cincinnati.

As Kentucky head coach, Calipari is 9-2 vs. Louisville — 5-0 at Rupp Arena; 2-0 in NCAA Tournament games on neutral courts; and 2-2 at the KFC Yum Center.

The Wildcats lead the all-time series with the Cardinals 35-16 and lead the modern rivalry (since 1982-83) 26-13.

Advantage: Louisville

Prediction

Kentucky 72, Louisville 71

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a H-L sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.

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