78 Miles, 40 Minutes, 11 men, 1 Goal. Beat Kentucky.
Step foot in one of the most hostile arenas in all of college basketball, and knock off a team that is bigger, better, and more talented than Louisville.
A win at Rupp will take the perfect heist.
The Wildcats, according to Russ Smith, are “the most talented team in the country.”
Russ is right. Kentucky on paper would destroy the Cardinals, because it has so many weapons.
Coach John Calipari’s team can beat you in so many ways. Anthony Davis dominates the low post. Terrence Jones explodes, creating highlight after highlight. Darius Miller and Doron Lamb shoot lights out from the perimeter.
Kentucky running on full cylinders cannot be stopped. The Cardinals must find ways to shut down some of the Cats’ vital scoring methods.
Rick Pitino- The Legend
Pitino is the Cardinals’ single biggest asset going into the big game. He knows Rupp Arena and the Wildcats better than anyone, he knows hostile situations, and he knows how to play against more talented opponents.
The biggest benefit from Kentucky’s loss to Indiana was seeing the Cats truly struggle. No doubt that Rick Pitino has broken down that footage over and over, having a coordinated plan of action for the Cardinals.
Pitino has had a tremendous year. He led the Cardinals to their best start in school history, despite an unending list of injuries. After all of the hoopla surrounding Pitino last season, Rick appears to have put his past behind him.
Peyton Siva- The Captain
Siva will be focused on former Louisville commit Marquis Teague. Teague has turned the ball over frequently at times, and Siva’s quick hands could lead to some easy breakaways.
After an atrocious outing against Western Kentucky, Pitino commented that Siva “needed to focus on basketball.” With those words, Siva came back and gave his best performance of the year against Georgetown. A similar performance Saturday is a must have for the Cards.
Gorgui Dieng- The Big Man
Louisville’s center has the most daunting task in all of Rupp – stop wunderkind Anthony Davis. Davis is no doubt the key to the Kentucky offense, and Indiana showed that he must be shut down to put the Cats on the ropes. If Dieng can hinder Davis, the Cardinals will remove UK’s biggest weapon.
Dieng matches up well physically with Davis, and has the capability to give “The Brow” some serious trouble. But if Dieng does let Davis walk all over him, Louisville can kiss its upset hopes goodbye.
Chane Behanan- The Rookie
Behanan began the season on a tear, showcasing his immense talent and promise. Since then the freshman has struggled. He provides a large portion of the Cards’ explosiveness. Behanan must showcase his talent Saturday in his first taste of the rivalry.
Kentucky will match Terrence Jones on Behanan in another crucial match-up. Jones has had his issues with his finger injury, but has shown his ability to score at will. Behanan, timid of late, will struggle against the Cats, but if he can return to his beastly form Jones will have his hands full.
Russ Smith- The Wild Card
Russ Smith has been the surprise of the season. He is also the Cardinals’ biggest x factor. Will we see the Russ who is an offensive catalyst and comeback sparker? Or the Russ who brought UofL’s comeback against Georgetown to a screeching halt?
Russ will likely be tasked with guarding Doron Lamb. Smith has history with Lamb and despite the height difference could have some success with him. Lamb doesn’t cough up the ball much, but Smith has proved himself to be one the best pickpockets in the nation. If Smith can remove Lamb’s superb three point shooting from the equation, Louisville will be much better off.
Kyle Kuric- The King
Last year’s homecoming king has been hot and cold this season. Kuric has become deadly from the corners of the perimeter, but still allows himself to get pushed around on defense. The king has to return to the aggressive play he showed against Notre Dame and Syracuse in the past if he wants to be effective in Rupp.
Kuric will face off against freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Kidd-Gilchrist has shown explosiveness all season and it will take a monster defensive effort to stop him. Kuric has struggled on defense at times, and can’t afford to let Kidd-Gilchrist explode Saturday.
Chris Smith- The Swingman
C. Smith has been the most disappointing Cardinal this year. After being poised to have a great senior season, Smith has now become a starting placeholder for Russ Smith. Still, Chris has some non-statistical contribution to the Cards. If Smith can play lockdown defense, Pitino will be pleased.
Rakeem Buckles- The Strongman
Rock has taken some time to become re-acclimated after recovering from injury. Buckles is however crucial to giving Dieng some rest time. Louisville is in sore need of 10 to 15 strong minutes from Buckles. If Dieng has foul trouble, Buckles will have to step up and provide some quality production. That’s something he hasn’t done since last season.
Elisha Justice- The Bullet
Justice has also seen limited time thanks to injury. However, Justice could provide some serious reprieve if R. Smith or Siva rack up the inevitable reach-in fouls while trying to steal. Pitino may not ask the world of Justice, but he will be called upon if the fouls rack up.
Jared Swopshire- The Old Hand
The most experienced player on the Cardinals is now seeing his fourth and final UL-UK match up. Although he didn’t see many minutes, Swopshire’s experience from Louisville’s last victory against the Cats is invaluable. Swop shouldn’t be asked too much, but could see some time up against Terrence Jones. If Swop can show some of the life he did at the beginning of the season, the Cards will be thankful of the Old Hand.
Kevin Ware- The Dark Horse
Ware is the biggest trick up Rick Pitino’s sleeve. Ware has seen very little time, but his quickness and length could go a long way against guarding the Cats. Calipari can’t have much scouting on Ware, and if Pitino were to give the guard some kind of supporting role it could throw a wrench in UK’s plans. Don’t expect much from the Dark Horse, but Ware is a card that Pitino could put into play.
The Game Plan
1. Slow Things Down
Rivalry games are notorious for fast and frenzied action. This game could be no different, and that’s exactly what the Cats want. Kentucky excels in transition, and slowing down the tempo gives the Cardinals the chance to set up their strong defensive sets. If things get out of hand, Kentucky will win, no question.
2. Stop Anthony Davis
Indiana showed that stopping Davis is the lifeblood to knocking off the Cats. Gorgui Dieng has to keep Davis quiet or better yet in foul trouble to give Louisville a shot at the upset.
3. Play Like A Team
It’s not just a youth soccer mantra, the Cardinals must show their experience and cohesiveness Saturday. Kentucky can at times look like five individual players and not a team, if Louisville can play to each others strengths. It will make stealing a win that much easier.
Louisville comes out swinging, takes an early lead. Kentucky of course roars back, but Anthony Davis gets 2 fouls in the first half and sits out. The Cardinals keep pace with the Davis-less Cats and head into the break up by 5 points.
UK opens the second period with a big run, and nearly puts Louisville on the ropes. Back to back threes from Kyle Kuric silence Big Blue Nation and give Louisville the lead again. Terence Jones single-handedly keeps the Wildcats in the game and ties it up with four minutes to go.
Russ Smith makes five second half steals and gives the Cardinals the lead. UK has a chance to come back, but in true Calipari fashion can’t come back at the stripe shooting an abysmal 40% free throw percentage.
With the game on the line Siva does what he does best, driving and providing a game winner.
Louisville 70, Kentucky 69
After the victory, The Cards will unite at a fountain in Lexington. Hopefully, Rick won’t be in a cop car.
Feel free to take the Pitino’s Eleven poster. Make it your Facebook profile picture, tweet it, make it a t-shirt, whatever. Get Up Card Nation! Let’s support our Cardinals.