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Russ Smith

By LARRY VAUGHT

INDIANAPOLIS — He had just played his final game of a legendary career at Louisville and missed a potential shot that could have forced overtime, but Louisville senior Russ Smith was as gracious in defeat as any All-American could be here Friday.

“I don’t hold grudges. I don’t hate anybody,” said Smith after Louisville’s 74-69 loss to Kentucky when the Cardinals blew a seven-point lead in the final 4 1/2 minutes. “I’m a positive person. At the end of they day, this was a loss. I just empathize with the fans. I wish I could’ve given them the win. I’m so sorry. But for me, we lost to a great team. And I have great respect for them.”

Several reports indicated that Smith went to the UK locker room to congratulate the Cats, a classy move after his 23-point, three-assist performance.

“I’m just glad that I have a lot of respect around the state and people respect my craft and my body of work. I love my teammates. I’m glad that I’ve gotten to meet all the people I’ve met. And I’m glad I have coach (Rick) Pitino in my life. He’s helped shape me into a man. He’s made me the player I am,” Smith said.

“I was looked at as kind of a clown basketball player. Everyone thought I was a joke. And he transformed me into an All-American basketball player. Without him in my life, I’d be upset right now, off crying, or yelling or making excuses. But I’m here in front of you, manning up. I take this loss like a man and I’ll go out like a man.”

He praised Kentucky.

“Those are a great group of guys. They show great love. You respect someone when you see a competitor out there on the court,” Smith said. “From each class, from my sophomore year on, Kentucky’s guys have shown me the same love. And these are new waves of classes, not the same people. So I’ve gotten great respect from them, potential NBA guys, and that’s great.

“The (Harrison) twins are fantastic and they’re going to keep getting better. All those guys. (James) Young, (Julius) Randle. Dakari (Johnson), I’ve known him since he was little and I’m excited for what he’s becoming, and you have to love that.

“If my career had to end, I’m okay with it ending to Kentucky. Those boys play hard. They deserve everything that’s coming to them. I respect everything about their program and their coaching staff. For me, I just want people to remember me as a great competitor, a great sportsman, someone who respects the game a lot, and whatever it is, I just want it to be a positive legacy.”

uk v louisville logoBy LARRY VAUGHT

INDIANAPOLIS — Depending on whether you are a Kentucky fan or a Louisville fan, it’s easy to find reasons why your favorite team will win Friday night’s NCAA Midwest Region showdown here.

Kentucky beat Louisville 73-66 on Dec. 28 in Rupp Arena. Since then, the Cardinals have won 20 of 23 games and many thought deserved to be better than a No. 4 seed. Kentucky never took off after that win over the Cardinals the way many expected and stumbled down the stretch of regular season play before finding new life in the postseason and knocking off No. 1 seed Wichita State last weekend.

One plus for Kentucky would seem to be rebounding. Kentucky is the second best offensive rebounding team in the country — and best left in the NCAA — thanks to Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein. Louisville has not been good on the defensive glass as it gives up offensive rebounds on 32.4 percent of all opportunities — 230th in Division I and only Connecticut among teams left in the NCAA was worse.

However, Montrezl Harrell has averaged 17.5 points and 9.2 rebounds over the last 10 games and shot 60 percent from the field. He had a double-double in both NCAA tourney wins. Against Kentucky, though, he managed just six points (he took only two shots) and four rebounds.

Louisville’s edge should be quickness with a smaller lineup.

“As far as quickness goes, I think we’ve also been doing a great job of our bigs hitting the glass as well,” Louisville All-American guard Russ Smith said. “And as far as Kentucky goes, I think they’ve been doing a better job handling pressure. So it’s all a matter of who is going to be the better team tomorrow.”

Louisville’s defense can also be suffocating at times as the Cardinals have held 16 of 36 foes to 60 or fewer points, including seven of the last 13. Louisville also has had at least nine steals in both NCAA tourney wins this year. Louisville has also taken care of the ball well with single digit turnovers in nine of the last 15 games.

Kentucky can counter with the best sustained 3-point shooting of the season in postseason play by Andrew Harrison, James Young and Aaron Harrison. They are a combined 43 percent from 3-point range and 78 percent at the foul line.

In the first meeting between the teams, Kentucky was 3-for-14 from 3-point range and Randle played just four minutes the second half due to leg cramps. He took no shots and had no rebounds after scoring 17 points and grabbing two rebounds in the first half.

“I don’t know if it was a mismatch or anything. I was just kind of feeling it,” Randle said. “Just my teammates did a good job of getting me the ball at spots where I can attack. I was just aggressive. As far as the cramping thing, I hope that’s behind me. I mean, I haven’t cramped in a little while. Knock on wood.”

Kentucky fans have to figure if Randle stays out of foul trouble, he can dominate inside, especially since the Cardinals no longer have Chane Behanan on the roster — and he was the best defender on Randle in the December game.  But UK coach John Calipari warned that Louisville’s improved matchup zone could find a way to neutralize Randle.

Louisville was just 6-for-26 from 3-point range in the UK loss. Russ Smith was 0-for-5. Luke Hancock, who got plenty of open looks, was 2-for-8. While Smith has struggled shooting in the NCAA, Hancock is 6-for-17 from 3-point range. If they make 3-point shots this time, Louisville has to feel the outcome will be different.

With Randle watching the second half (he didn’t play the final 11 minutes), UK got stellar play from point guard Andrew Harrison. He had six points during a 15-4 run after Randle went out for good and finished with a then career-high 18 points.

Willie Cauley-Stein and James Young were also big contributors to UK’s win. Cauley-Stein had just two points, but he grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked three shots. Young was just 5-for-17 from the field, but he also got 10 rebounds.

“We’re completely different (than the first Louisville game). We’re not the same team,” Cauley-Stein said. “We are a lot better than we were that day. We’re more of a team now. We’re not playing as individuals any more. We’re sharing the ball. Everybody has found his own role and how to fill it. It’s all fit together finally. Nobody is doing their own thing. We’re a cohesive team now.”

Hancock feels the same way.

“I think we were struggling to kind of find an identity at that point. A lot of changes to our team since then. And I think it’s been for the better. I think guys are kind of filling into their roles and know what they have to do to make our team better,” Hancock said.

Calipari thinks it could be another special game like UK’s win over previously unbeaten Wichita State Sunday because of the way both teams are playing.

“They’ve settled into a groove of how they’re going to play, how they’re creating shots for each other, how they’re creating turnovers,” Calipari said. “And when you watch them, they’re playing really good basketball. Everybody on their team has settled in to what they have to do for their team to win. They’re playing extremely hard and playing with great energy, playing physical, not afraid to bump and grind whether it’s inside/outside. They’re a good team. They’re a really good team. And, again, of all the teams left, they may be playing better than anybody.”

ST. LOUIS (USBWA) – The U.S. Basketball Writers Association has selected 15 outstanding players as finalists for its Oscar Robertson National Player of the Year Trophy and six standout freshmen as finalists for the Integris Wayman Tisdale Award.

Members of the association’s board of directors chose the finalists and the entire 975-member USBWA will vote on the awards as well as the annual All-America and All-District teams. The ballots will be distributed Sunday evening and USBWA members may still write in candidates for the three individual honors.

The Oscar Robertson Trophy recipient will be announced on Friday, April 4, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, at a press conference in conjunction with the NCAA Men’s Final Four. Prior to that, on Mon., March 17, the Integris Wayman Tisdale Award winner will be announced and the following Monday, the winner of the Henry Iba National Coach of the Year Award will be revealed. All three award winners will be formally presented their awards at the Devon Energy College Basketball Awards on Mon., April 14, at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

Following are the finalsts for the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Year Trophy:

2014 OSCAR ROBERTSON TROPHY FINALISTS
G/F Kyle Anderson, UCLA, 6-9, 230, So., Fairview, N.J.
F Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico, 6-9, 250, Sr., Brisbane, Australia
F Cleanthony Early, Wichita State, 6-8, 219, Sr., Middletown, N.Y.
F Melvin Ejim, Iowa State, 6-6, 220, Sr., Toronto, Ont.
G Tyler Ennis, Syracuse, 6-2, 180, Fr., Brampton, Ont.
F C.J. Fair, Syracuse, 6-8, 215, Sr., Baltimore, Md.
G Nick Johnson, Arizona, 6-3, 200, Jr., Gilbert, Ariz.
G Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati, 6-4, 210, Sr., Yonkers, N.Y.
F Doug McDermott, Creighton, 6-8, 225, Sr., Ames, Iowa
G Shabazz Napier, Connecticut, 6-1, 180, Sr., Roxbury, Mass.
F Jabari Parker, Duke, 6-8, 235, Fr., Chicago, Ill.
F Casey Prather, Florida, 6-6, 212, Sr., Jackson, Tenn.
F Julius Randle, Kentucky, 6-9, 250, Fr., Dallas, Texas
G Russ Smith, Louisville, 6-0, 165, Sr., Brooklyn, N.Y.
G Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, 6-8, 200, Fr., Vaughan, On t.

Following are the finalists for the Integris Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award:

2014 INTEGRIS WAYMAN TISDALE AWARD FINALISTS
C Joel Embiid, Kansas, 7-0, 250, Fr., Yaounde, Cameroon
G Tyler Ennis, Syracuse, 6-2, 180, Fr., Brampton, Ont.
F Aaron Gordon, Arizona, 6-9, 225, Fr., San Jose, Calif.
F Jabari Parker, Duke, 6-8, 235, Fr., Chicago, Ill.
F Julius Randle, Kentucky, 6-9, 250, Fr., Dallas, Texas
G Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, 6-8, 200, Fr., Vaughan, Ont.

Kentucky's Andrew Harrison (5) shoots under pressure from Louisville's Mangok Mathiang (12) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 73-66. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison (5) shoots under pressure from Louisville’s Mangok Mathiang (12) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 73-66. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

GARY B. GRAVES, AP Sports Writer

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison combined for 28 points, including 11 during a critical second-half stretch with star Julius Randle sidelined by cramps, helping the 18th-ranked Wildcats beat No. 6 Louisville 73-66 on Saturday.

Randle’s 17 first-half points staked Kentucky (10-3) to a 41-36 halftime lead before the 6-foot-9 forward went to the locker room early in the second with leg cramps. He returned but cramped again and spent the rest of the game on the bench.

The Harrison twins amply filled the void, turning a 52-51 deficit with 11:01 remaining into a 68-58 lead with four minutes left. Andrew Harrison and James Young each scored 18 points with Young adding a key 3-pointer during the 17-6 run that helped Kentucky beat its in-state archrival for the fifth time in six meetings.

The Wildcats also earned their first win against a ranked opponent in four tries this season.

Russ Smith scored 19 points but was just 5 of 10 from the foul line for Louisville (11-2), which failed to capitalize after rallying from the halftime hole. Chris Jones added 18 points for the Cardinals, who missed their second chance to beat a top-25 school.

Kentucky has had the tougher early-season schedule, losing to Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina, which also beat Louisville last month. Cleveland State and Belmont have also pushed the Wildcats with their quickness and athleticism, qualities that coach John Calipari warned his team to expect often from Louisville.

Other than allowing Louisville to open both halves with runs, Kentucky handled everything the Cardinals tried, especially in the clutch.

The Wildcats outrebounded Louisville 44-36 including 17-12 offensively. Their significant size advantage kept the Cardinals from driving inside as they consistently contested shots and passes, and they controlled the offensive end 42-24 and held Louisville to 40 percent shooting.

Most importantly, Kentucky earned Bluegrass State bragging rights after a week in which Cardinals coach Rick Pitino and Calipari tried to stress the big-picture perspective. Besides cautioning players about putting too much weight in this game, both coaches also told them to block out the noise leading up to this well-hyped showdown. Louisville even went to Florida well ahead of last week’s game at FIU to keep his team focused and away from the talk-show chatter.

Tuning out the noise before 24,396 in Rupp Arena was another story. The standing-room only student section was filled an hour before tipoff and the din only grew louder — just after Louisville took the sea of Kentucky blue out of the game by scoring the first eight points.

Randle answered with five for the Wildcats, including a driving dunk for his first basket that quickly got the crowd excited. That play set the stage for a half in which he muscled his way past a variety of Louisville defenders on 7-of-8 shooting.

He got help from Young, whose 12 points including two 3-pointers provided the scoring alternative Kentucky needed with Louisville focused on stopping Randle. Andrew Harrison added seven points, helping to provide a 41-36 halftime lead as the Wildcats used their size to keep the Cardinals on the perimeter.

That wasn’t a problem for Louisville, which used Jones’ perimeter shooting to stay within reach. The junior college transfer scored 15 points on three from long range while Smith worked his way for 10 points including driving the lane for a huge dunk that maintained hope for a Louisville team needing that one spurt to get back in the game.

Sure enough, the Cardinals needed just 2:05 to tie it at 43 as Smith scored five points while Mangok Mathiang added a putback. With Randle in the locker room and sidelined again by cramps after that, Louisville grabbed its lead since 9:09 of the first half, 52-51, on Jones’ three-point play.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Jarrod Polson, a senior guard who sparked UK’s win over Belmont, knows what he considers the key for Kentucky Saturday against Louisville.
“Just be able to handle pressure well. They’re always a pressing team and they try to get up in you,” Polson said. “I don’t know, bring a lot of energy into that game. I don’t think that’ll be hard for us just because the rivalry. I think if we do those two things we’ll be good.”

Handling the pressure can be easier said than done. Louisville is 11th nationally in steals per game at 9.8 (Kentucky is 335th at 4.1). Kentucky is 233rd nationally in turnovers with 156.

Freshmen Andrew Harrison and  James Young —and to a lesser extent Aaron Harrison —have struggled with turnovers so far this season as has Julius Randle.

Louisville senior point guard Russ Smith (140th) and backcourt mate Chris Jones (32nd) rank near the top of the country in steal percentage. That’s could be a troubling statistic for Kentucky, especially with the way Smith excels in transition.

Randle seems eager to assert himself as a go-to player for Kentucky as the Cats try to beat a ranked team for the first time in four outings this season.

“I have to step up. Coach has given me every opportunity, but I’ve got to step up more,” Randle said.  “I have to talk more, run the floor, be a great defender, do more for the team. It’s time of the season where there are no more excuses. We just have to step up. We’ve played in big games and can’t play in any bigger game than Louisville. It’s really big for us and I’ve just got to be ready to do more.”

Louisville's Russ Smith, right, runs into the screen of Missouri Stste's Christian Kirk during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Louisville’s Russ Smith, right, runs into the screen of Missouri State’s Christian Kirk  Dec. 17, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

By LARRY VAUGHT

College basketball analyst Jay Bilas understands the hype for Saturday’s Kentucky-Louisville game and the passion both fan bases have for this rivalry. The ESPN analyst also knows many variables factor into who can win the game. However, Bilas doesn’t think it’s hard to project which player could be the key to his team winning.

“Julius Randle and Russ Smith. I don’t think Kentucky will win unless Randle is engaged and fully involved in the offense. Kentucky cannot just put its head down and drive Louisville. Randle has got to get the ball, and he has to want the ball in the right spots and play before he gets the ball,” Bilas said. “Smith is capable of taking over the game and getting 35. He is an incredible college player.”

Randle is averaging 18.2 points and 11.3 rebounds (tied for third nationally) per game for Kentucky and shooting 54.4 percent from the field. However, he has a team-high 40 turnovers in 12 games. Smith is averaging 16.8 points, 5.0 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game. He has 29 turnovers. Smith has shown the ability to score at the rim or from 3-point range, but he’s also had seven games with five or more assists after having only eight all of last season.

Kentucky's Julius Randle (30) shoots between Belmont's Reece Evan Bradds (35) and J.J. Mann (24) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 93-80. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Kentucky’s Julius Randle (30) shoots between Belmont’s Reece Evan Bradds (35) and J.J. Mann (24)  Dec. 21, in Lexington. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

It could help Randle if Willie Cauley-Stein, one of the nation’s top shot blockers, can counter Louisville’s physical play with a solid overall performance. He’s averaging 4.17 blocks per game, fifth best in the nation, along with 9.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.

“His mobility and agility are impressive. He has been terrific in blocking and changing shots,” Bilas said. “But he can be better in other aspects of the game. Once he accepts and embraces the physical challenge of bigger teams, he will be very good. Right now, physical play bothers him a bit.”

Two years ago UK beat Louisville in Rupp Arena and then met the Cards again in the Final Four semifinals. Could one or both of these teams be Final Four-bound again?

“The odds say no. But I still believe that both are among the four most talented teams. If the tournament started today, I’d say no, but Louisville would have the better chance. Thankfully, the tournament doesn’t start today,” Bilas said.

uk-ul-logo1By LARRY VAUGHT

Seven Lexington-based media members — WLEX-TV sports anchor Alan Cutler (@cutler18), WKYT-TV news anchor Jennifer Palumbo (@JenNimePalumbo), Kentucky Sports Radio analyst Ryan Lemond (@ryanlemond), UK radio play-by-play announcer Tom Leach (@tomleachKY), WLAP Sunday Morning sports talk host Mark Buerger (@meisterbuerger), Winchester Sun sports editor Keith Taylor (@keithtaylor21) and Larry Glover Live sports talk host Larry Glover (@larrygloverlive) — offer their insights on Saturday’s Kentucky-Louisville game and who they think will win in a five-part series this week.

Question: Who will be the key player on each team for his team to win?

Cutler: “This year’s Cedric Jenkins.”

Palumbo: “For UK to win, Julius Randle can’t have an off night. He needs to take charge of the game and get a double-double. Louisville’s key player will be Russ Smith. He’s their best player and carries the team.”

Lemond: “It’s gotta be Julius Randle. This is a matchup where Randle can really exploit UofL’s weakness inside. I’m sure UofL will do everything to collapse and make Randle uncomfortable by hacking him to death, like North Carolina did. I just don’t think UofL has all the manpower to contain him for an entire game. If Randle is able to stay out of foul trouble he can show the form we saw earlier in the year and make up for some recent lack luster games.”

Buerger: “Russ Smith for Louisville. Much like Siva the past couple of years, Smith can either dominate the game or keep Kentucky in the game. If he plays well, Kentucky may be in trouble. For Kentucky it’s Randle. Say what you want about Andrew Harrison, if Randle doesn’t play well, this team isn’t winning games like this.”

Glover: “For UK, it’s Andrew Harrison. He has to handle the pressure that Pitino is going to throw at him.  For U of L, Montrezl Harrell. He has to give them something inside, the Cards cannot concede the paint to Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein.”

Leach: “Frequently, an unexpected player has been a key to victory in this series. For Kentucky, that could be Alex Poythress, with a big game off the bench. For Louisville, a big game from Montrezl Harrell would probably be a big boost.”

Taylor: “For Kentucky, it’s been a given that Julius Randle has to perform well for the Cats to have a chance to win. For the Cards, I think Russ Smith will be the key.”

uk-ul-logo1By LARRY VAUGHT

He doesn’t really think Kentucky can win at Louisville Saturday, but Sporting News college basketball columnist Mike DeCourcy knows pregame assumptions often can be wrong.

The logic is that Louisville is just too experienced and deep for Kentucky this year, especially playing at home as it will be Saturday when it tried to end a four-game losing streak to the unranked Wildcats.

“That would be the assumption, but if the games were not played by human beings we would simply feed it all into a computer and then take those results at face value,” said DeCourcy. “Louisville has been terrific this year. Kentucky has not. Louisville responded to its adversity — Gorgui Dieng’s injury — by finding the means to beat quality teams like Charleston and Memphis on the road. Kentucky responded to its adversity — Ryan Harrow’s early absence — by struggling to find a rhythm.

“We could stop right there and let that stand, or we can play the game? Me, I’d rather see the game. I expect I know what will happen. I don’t believe Kentucky has evolved to the point where it will succeed against UL’s pressure or its zone. It’ll be intriguing to watch them try.”

It will be and whether No. 4 Louisville will be the best team UK has faced — both teams lost to No. 1 Duke — remains to be seen even though Dieng has been cleared to play after missing about a month of play.

“That’s a hard one to judge, without knowing how effective Dieng will be after a month layoff,” DeCourcy said when asked about the Cards being the best team UK has faced. “By the end of last year, Dieng was outstanding and Louisville was playing with confidence. At the end of 2005, when Calipari was coaching Memphis, the Cards were on the way to the Final Four although with less talent than this team owns.

“This team certainly has the potential to be better than 2005 or 2012 Louisville, but Calipari and Kentucky will be facing a less evolved team. Of course, he’ll be facing these Cards with a team that is very much a work in progress.”

Is DeCourcy seeing signs of progress with Kentucky and how important is this game for UK?

“That wasn’t a terrible Marshall team Kentucky blew out of Rupp Arena (last week). It wasn’t a good team, but to put a 28-point beating on the Herd was a step forward, especially with Harrow playing a significant role,” DeCourcy said. “Harrow is not what many UK fans imagined him to be, but he is starting to show he can be an effective player at this level.

“I think it’s honestly more important that he not wilt under UofL’s defensive pressure, that he play competently and effectively, than it is for UK to win. Without a victory over Louisville it’s not going to be easy for Kentucky to earn a comfortable NCAA Tournament seed given the relative weakness of the SEC. It is more important, though, for UK to be positioned to contend for the league title and take whatever seed comes with either winning it or coming close. To do that, they’re going to need Harrow to be good.”

He’s right because if the Cats do lose — and they are a decided underdog — that will be four losses already and it is going to be a difficult climb back even into the top 25. Even winning the SEC could position UK no better than maybe a six seed if it falls to Louisville.

DeCourcy still feels UK freshman Alex Poythress has more talent than any player who will play in Saturday’s game.

“But he’s still missing the drive to go with it,” DeCourcy said.

So who will be the best player on the court?

“The most accomplished player is (Louisville senior guard) Peyton Siva, the reigning Big East Tournament MVP. But the best player for either team to date has been (Louisville guard) Russ Smith, and I’m still astonished by that. I didn’t picture him as anything more than a change-of-pace player, but Rick Pitino has managed to turn him into a star,” DeCourcy said.

However, DeCourcy remains a huge fan of UK freshman center Nerlens Noel.

“I saw Noel in high school and wrote that the only reasonable comparison for the way he played was Bill Russell. I knew at the time it was a reach, and that it was unlikely Noel would one day win a dozen or so NBA championships (like Russell did with Boston). The point of a comparison is to draw a mental picture for readers of a player they haven’t seen, and that’s what Noel looks like when he guards: like a young Russell, with his long, spindly arms and legs and hunger to impact every defensive possession,” DeCourcy said.

“The only thing Noel has surprised me with is his eagerness to impact the game at both ends. I don’t view him as overwhelmingly skilled on offense, but he so wants to make a difference that he is willing and able to attack defenses just based on his speed, quickness and bounce. All that got Mason Plumlee (of Duke) in foul trouble. If Noel ever develops a reliable offensive weapon — a killer jump-hook or a 14-foot jumper — he’ll be an excellent NBA player,” DeCourcy said.

Unfortunately for Kentucky, he doesn’t have either of those tools yet and that’s why barring some kind of major surprise, the guess here is that Louisville does indeed win Saturday’s game.

uk-ul-logo1By LARRY VAUGHT

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.

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