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In 147 minutes of play this season, Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow has just five turnovers — or one about every 30 minutes of play. Louisville guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith have combined for 62 steals in 680 minutes of play — or one about every 11 minutes of play.
Obviously, one of those numbers has to change Saturday when No. 5 Louisville hosts Kentucky when the Cardinals will be trying to beat UK coach John Calipari for the first time in five tries since he took charge of the Kentucky program.
Louisville’s veteran guards are a big reason the Cardinals lead the nation in turnover margin. As a team, Louisville has 141 steals in 12 games compared to 88 steals in 11 games for UK. Louisville has committed 154 turnovers, Kentucky 135.
“We are just going to play our game,” said Harrow. “That’s all I have to say about the Louisville guards. As long as we play our game, we will be alright.”
Will he have to change his style of play against Louisville’s pressure defense?
“Not really. I haven’t even seen them play this year,” Harrow said after UK’s win over Marshall Saturday. “I am just worried about our team and how we are improving.”
Calipari thought playing a physical, veteran team like Marshall that did not back down from UK was the kind of game his team needed. However, he insisted that was not meant to indicate he was thinking forward to Louisville after the Marshall win.
“Who are we playing next week?” Calipari said before being told it was Louisville. ‘We’re playing Louisville? Whoa, that’s going to be a hard game.”
Hard game? It could be a brutal game. It will be only Kentucky’s second true road game and the Cats wilted at Notre Dame in an atmosphere that was hostile, but likely nothing compared to what the YUM Center will be like Saturday. Not only is this a huge rivalry game,b but Calipari is 4-0 against Louisville and coach Rick Pitino in three years at UK. Last year UK beat Louisville in the Final Four. Two years ago Calipari brought his underdog Cats to Louisville and Josh Harrellson blossomed into a national star during UK’s stunning win.
“I’m worried about my team right now,” Calipari said after the Marshall game. “Believe me when I tell you, I’m not worried about anybody we’re playing. I’m worried about my team. If we go in and Louisville is way better than us, we move on to the next game.
“We’re going to go in, we’re going to play our game. We’ve gotten better. Is that good enough? I don’t know. They’ve got a veteran team. They’ve got everybody playing well. They’re beating everybody by 30 and 40. Hard game for us. They’ve got terrific players, really good players. Hard game for us. I’m worried about us getting better.
“What Marshall did for us physically, they had confidence, they have a swagger. We couldn’t make shots and they’re looking at it like, ‘We’re in this,’ and they were. They come out at half, do what they did to us, exactly what we needed. We needed to go against a big, physical team to see if we got tougher in the last two weeks. Last game, it did not carry over, all the work. This game it did. So that’s why I’m happy.”
But will he be happy Saturday? Louisville fans think not and so do most college basketball analysts. Louisville seems a bit deeper, more experienced and more physical. However, Calipari certainly seems like he’s content with whatever lies ahead.
“We’re a long way from home. But it shows that this team, and I keep saying — this team has more upside than any team in the country. We’re going to have games where we don’t shoot it well. Doesn’t matter. If you defend, you’re tough, you’re rough, create shots for each other, you’re going to be fine,” Calipari said. “There’s going to be games where we’re on the road, we get a little rattled. If we’re going to be the team I think we can be, that’s going to hit us and we’re going to adjust and grind it out and play better.”
Yet doing that at Louisville Saturday could be a lot easier said than done.