LEXINGTON — Kentucky’s youth vs. Louisville’s experience. That’s the big theme in Saturday afternoon’s annual UK-U of L hoops showdown.
Going into the nationally-televised CBS encounter at KFC Yum! Center, a look at both teams’ rosters (and statistics) reveals the 11-1 Cardinals have the advantage in experience as well as depth.
Nine U of L players are averaging at least 15.3 minutes a game and only ONE of them is a freshman. And you can add the 10th player from Louisville, 6-10 sophomore Zach Price, who is playing an average of almost 10 minutes a game (9.4 minutes). And their star players — backcourt men Peyton Siva and Russ Smith — are upperclassmen. Siva is a senior (along with backup senior Stephan Van Treese who started in Louisville’s victory over Western Kentucky a few days ago) and Smith is a junior.
On the opposite side, UK features eight players who are averaging 14.6 minutes or more, and FOUR of them are freshmen. Graduate student Julius Mays is the only upper class veteran seeing significant action, but the transfer guard didn’t play for the Wildcats last season.
As for the starting lineups, Louisville has used only ONE freshman — Montrezl Harrell — just ONE time in its first 12 games this season, while UK has started three freshman superstars (Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress) in all 11 of their games.
So, from that “experience” perspective, the Wildcats will have their hands full in handling the highly-ranked Cardinals.
UK’s Poythress knows U of L won’t be a pushover.
“I’ve seen a couple (of their) games,” said the Clarksville, Tenn., product who nearly posted a double-double (nine points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes) before fouling out in Kentucky’s 82-54 win over Marshall last Saturday.
“They’re a good team, very athletic team, well-coached team. They have great guards, they have size and it’ll be a great game.”
With disappointing losses to Notre Dame and Baylor, Kentucky coach John Calipari hasn’t been all that happy with his 8-3 club despite several Rupp Arena blowouts in November and December against the likes of Samford, Portland and Lipscomb, among others.
But Calipari said the talented Wildcats are improving along with sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow, who scored a career-high 23 points against Marshall.
“We’ve gotten better,” said the Kentucky boss.
However, Calipari isn’t sure if his squad’s improvement is good enough?
On the dangerous Cardinals, whose shot-blocking big man Gorgui Dieng has been out and is still not expected to play this Saturday due to a wrist injury, the UK mentor said, “They’ve got a veteran team. They’ve got everybody playing well. They’re beating everybody by 30 and 40. They’ve got terrific players, really good players. Hard game for us. I’m worried about us getting better.”
Since arriving in Lexington in 2009, Calipari, though, has been successful against U of L every time as the Kentucky coach, posting a 4-0 mark, including last year’s memorable 69-61 victory over the Cardinals in the Final Four.
Are the Cats — who are 3-0 at the KFC Yum! Center, including two 2012 NCAA tournament games — good enough to stop coach Rick Pitino’s Cardinals this time even though Pitino’s U of L record against UK is a not-so-good 4-8?
Probably not, but I sure hope I’m dead wrong.
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It was very nice to see my friend Russell Rice, who once was UK’s publicity man for coaches Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall and Eddie Sutton, on the press row at the Marshall game.
Now living in the Daytona Beach, Fla., area, Rice made a rare trip to Rupp Arena and visited with old friends, including Coach Hall who dropped by to say hello.
A noted UK sports historian, Rice, who also writes a column for The Cats’ Pause, was in town to help promote his newly-published book about UK basketball.
The 273-page book, titled “Big Blue Nation: Kentucky Basketball’s Native Sons & Daughters” (Still Publications, Eubank, Ky., $30.00) takes an unusual look at the Wildcat program. The author — who was sports editor of the Lexington Leader during the 1960s and long-time sports information director at UK before retiring in 1989 — looks at the former Wildcat players from the state of Kentucky and matched them with their home counties or towns.
The book is simply about the Kentuckians who played for the Big Blue. For instance, Rice has included brief write-ups about the Bell Countians who played at UK — Max Glickman, Bobby Slusher, Larry Pursiful and Robert Mayhall.
The publishers of the new book, by the way, are former Kentucky star Valerie Still — who is the school’s all-time leading scorer (men or women) — along with ex-UK instructor Bob Todd.
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Jamie H. Vaught, a long-time sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is currently a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.