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Western links

--Spread check: Louisville by 10.

--Playing in Freedom Hall is a huge deal for Western star A.J. Slaughter.

"He had every kind of Louisville shirt you could find," Bonita Slaughter says of her son.

While he worked to develop the basketball skills that eventually made him an All-State player at Shelby County, A.J. sometimes imagined himself winning games in Freedom Hall like his favorite Cardinals players, Reece Gaines and Francisco Garcia.

On Saturday, Slaughter will finally live his fantasy. He will be wearing red in Freedom Hall when Louisville plays Western Kentucky University.

Of course, a little boy's dream has long since taken a detour.

Slaughter will be in the visiting uniform of WKU on Saturday. His goal will be to replicate the beat-down he and Western put on Rick Pitino's Cardinals a year ago.

--Preston's ready.

"They're not very big, but they're very skilled, like Steffphon Pettigrew and Jeremy Evans," Knowles said. "They do a great job of not letting you get the ball in the post. They want to take you out of plays, kind of like UNLV did."

WKU has won three straight — including a 76-69 win over then-No.24 Vanderbilt — after a 2-3 start.

"We've been turning the corner in general," WKU coach Ken McDonald told The Associated Press. "The last couple times out we've just been playing better, defending better and taking some pressure off our offense."

It prompted Pitino to label the Toppers "the best team our fans have seen this year," and he added, "Western's a major team like Gonzaga's a major team, like Xavier's a major team."

Knowles said the Cards need a major effort to prevent another loss to the Hilltoppers.

"Our main thing is just us coming out and being the more physical team and just getting assertive from the get-go," he said. "Just let them know that we're here, and we're going to play them hard for 40 minutes."

--The 'Tops are expecting a U of L squad hellbent on revenge.

"Guys in that locker room aren’t going to let their teammates forget that we got them last year and we’ve got to be ready for that," McDonald said. "We’ve got to be ready for that environment. They’re going to come out swinging and we have to handle that.

"We’ve got to go in with an ‘us against the world’ mentality, because we haven’t been in this type of environment yet. It’ll be louder than we’re used to and we have a chance to do something special."

Aside from the fact the Hilltoppers (5-3) knocked off Louisville (6-3) last season, the Cardinals figure to be fired up today simply because they’ve already suffered two disappointing home losses this season - to Charlotte and Western Carolina.

But the Hilltoppers say they can’t worry about that. They aren’t concerning themselves with last season’s game and they’re not losing sleep about how Louisville has played this year, either.

"We know they’re going to be fired up because of last year, so we’ve just got to be ready to play," Pettigrew said. "We can only care about how we play and get ready to handle everything they’re going to throw at us. We’ve got to be ready."

--Both squads are in need of some resume boosting before heading into conference play.

--WKU game notes.