Cats and Cards Christen the Yum Center
Maybe some Kentucky players don’t want to acknowledge what the Kentucky-Louisville game means. But Mason County product Darius Miller knows not to even try to downplay the significance of Friday’s game at the new KFC Yum Center in Louisville.
“I know what this rivalry means to the program,” said Miller. “It will be intense. It always is. It will be a high energy game. If we get off to a sluggish start, we will be in trouble because I know how much they want to win.”
The two rivals played an ugly, physical and foul-marred game last year. Kentucky won but the game had plenty of venom on both sides before Kentucky’s depth and talent prevailed. This year the Cardinals are the deeper team while Kentucky looks to have more talent in the top six players.
Last year’s game was explosive from the start. Will that be the case this year?
“It probably won’t be as chippy, but it will be intense,” Miller, a junior, said. “I don’t think it will be like the beginning of last year. Of course, I wasn’t expecting last year’s game to be like that, either.”
One of Miller’s friends, and former 10th Region rival, is Louisville’s Preston Knowles, a former Clark County standout.
“I played him a lot in high school,” Miller said. “We are still pretty good friends. We keep up with each other and watch each other play. It will be fun. We probably won’t talk this week, or at least not until after the game.
“But we both know this will be a high intensity game. You try to prepare the same way you do for any other game, but you know this game is special to everybody in Kentucky.”
It is. That’s why Kentucky coach John Calipari unveiled a 2-3, or was it a 3-2, zone Tuesday night as well as a brief box-and-one. The coach said he didn’t really like the zone because it slowed down the game, then he took a little jab at the Cardinals by saying he might use it Friday like Drexel did against Louisville. Remember, Drexel is the only team to have slowed down the Cards and gave Louisville its only loss.
“We’ve been working on the zone since Maui (when UK lost to Connecticut),” point guard Brandon Knight said. “When we execute, it’s a pretty good defense. But I don’t think it was just for Louisville.”
Just to give the Cards a little more to think about, Calipari went with a smaller, quicker lineup in the second half just to create matchup worries for Pitino.
But the players insisted none of this was part of looking ahead to Louisville.
Freshman Doron Lamb said he had not watched Louisville play this season before finally admitting he did watch part of the Cardinals’ win Monday. “I know it will be intense and physical, but no one has really even mentioned Louisville,” Lamb said.
Between now and noon Friday, Calipari will use the L-word a lot.
“It will be a war. It’s the next challenge for us to find out what we are made of and what we are. We just have to learn from the game,” Calipari said. “We have just played a top-10 non-conference schedule before Louisville. We are learning about our team.”
Calipari says he doesn’t want a “dirty” game again this year.
“Doesn't need to get dirty. Doesn't need to be amped up any more than it is which are two good teams playing each other. We're going into a ranked arena. They're ranked. It's hard to win on the road versus a ranked team or they wouldn't be ranked,” Calipari said.
Yes, it is hard to beat a ranked team on the road, especially with no depth. North Carolina wasn’t ranked, yet it beat visiting Kentucky.
The Cards have the depth and inside presence to create problems for UK, especially if the Cats are not shooting well.
My worry is that foul trouble will doom UK in a fast-paced game. I also expect the Cards to do everything possible to neutralize Terrence Jones.
Kentucky could win if Knight and Lamb are red-hot from outside, Miller and DeAndre Liggins played sound all-around games, Josh Harrellson avoids fouls and Jones keeps his poise.
However, logic dictates Rick Pitino has the Cards to deal a winning hand in this year’s Battle of the Bluegrass.