Kentucky Wildcats vs. Louisville Cardinals
Saturday, December 29, 2012, KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, KY
4:30 start time, coverage by CBS
In the state of Kentucky, this is the big one. This is the game that fans circle when the schedules come out. This is the game that proves to the entire world that basketball is truly King of the Commonwealth. On Saturday, the Cats take on the hated, despised and all-around loathed Louisville Cardinals.
Make no mistake, these two programs hate each other. The fans, the players, and as coy as they may act, even the coaches hold a special disdain for one another. Everything that each team has will be left out on the court.
This game, however, may be a little different than the last three, in which Coach John Calipari brought uber-talented teams against the under-matched Cards. This time around, it’s the Cardinals who come into the game as the favorite, ranked fourth in the AP polls, largely around a core of experienced players. And as we all know, the latest incarnation of the Cats has yet to jell the way the previous three teams have, and have fallen out of the Associated Press poll for the first time under Cal’s regime.
Today, the news surfaced that junior center Gorgui Dieng will be active for the Kentucky game, a feat thought impossible only a few days ago. Dieng was averaging 8.2 points, 8.0 boards and 2 blocks per contest before injuring his wrist against Kentucky’s fellow SEC mates, the Missouri Tigers. It’s unclear on whether or not Dieng will reprise his starting role, or whether Pitino will rely on the platoon of senior Stephan Van Treese, sophomore Zach Price and freshman Montrezl Harrell to match up against the big man duo of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein.
The Cardinals are led in scoring by junior guard Russ Smith, who averages 19.7 points per game. Smith is the very definition of a volume shooter, taking double-digit shot attempts in 11 of the team’s 12 games, but only hitting 50% or more of his shots in three. Smith never met a shot he didn’t like, so the backcourt will have to keep a lot of pressure on him and not allow Smith any easy baskets.
The Cats will have to also keep an eye on point guard Petyon Siva, who starts his 113th season with the Cards (or at least, that’s how long it feels like he’s been around). He’s second on the team in scoring (11.4 ppg) and first in assists (6.3 apg). Despite being the team’s second highest point producer, Siva still struggles to be a consistent scoring threat. He has only scored more than 19 points in consecutive gamed once, in their loss to Duke on November 24 and their narrow victory over Illinois State seven days later. That’s been one of the knocks on Siva since his arrival in Louisville. Despite this, he’ll probably look to rebound after an abysmal game against Western Kentucky last Saturday, where he scored only five points and shot only 1-for-6 from the field. This will be sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow’s stiffest challenge to date, this will be a true test to see if he’s ready to become the everyday point guard for the Cats.
A lot of the Vegas oddsmakers have Louisville as the favorites to win, most citing the Cards’ home field advantage, core of experienced players and the early struggles of the young Cats, who for the first time in Coach Cal’s tenure, don’t have an experienced player to pull the team together. There aren’t any Darius Millers on this team, the most experienced player on the floor, Julius Mays, is in his first season as a Cat after playing at both NC State and Wright State. But you know what? Kentucky most certainly has the talent edge. And knowing how much this game means on many different levels, I can see the Cats coming out with renewed focus and putting their names back in the national limelight.
It’s not going to be easy though, as the Cards want this one too. For far too long, they’ve lived in the shadows of Big Brother, and want to prove that this is indeed a red state. It’s going to be rough, and heated, and nasty. Sweat will fly, bodies will hit the floor, and swear words will be spat. But in the end, when the smoke settles, look for the Big Blue Nation to reign supreme in the Chicken Bucket.
Kentucky 77, Louisville 74