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Battle of the Bluegrass preview: Louisville and Kentucky square off in annual rivalry game

The biggest unofficial holiday in the Bluegrass State has arrived.

Kentucky v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Louisville Cardinals (9-3) vs. No. 16 Kentucky Wildcats (9-2)

Game Time: 2:02 p.m.

Location: KFC Yum Center: Louisville, Ky.

Television: ESPN2

Announcers: Dan Shulman (play-by-play), Jay Bilas (analyst) and Dan Dakich (sideline analyst)

Officials: Ron Groover, Jeff Clark, Pat Driscoll

Favorite: Kentucky by 1.5

Series: Kentucky leads 35-16

Last Meeting: Kentucky won 90-61 on Dec. 29, 2017 in Lexington

Series History:

Probable Starting Lineups:

Kentucky’s Season to Date:


Relevant Videos:

About Kentucky:

After an inauspicious start to its 2018-19 season, No. 16 Kentucky enters Saturday’s rivalry game coming off its most impressive performance of the season, an 80-72 triumph over ninth-ranked North Carolina last Saturday in Chicago. Keldon Johnson and Reid Travis combined for 41 points, while freshman point guard Ashton Hagans tied a school record with eight steals.

Kentucky, which began the season as the No. 2 team in the AP top 25 poll, enters Saturday’s game ranked second in the country in rebounding margin and third in offensive rebounding percentage. Most of the credit for that goes to the inside duo of Travis, a grad transfer from Stanford, and sophomore P.J. Washington. The duo combines to average 28.4 points and 15.0 rebounds per game.

Though John Calipari claimed throughout November that this would be the best shooting team he’s coached at Kentucky, the Wildcats get just 23.0 percent of their point production from beyond the arc. That’s a lower percentage than all but 20 of the 353 teams in Division-I. As a team, UK shoots the three at a respectable 36.6 percent clip, but Calipari is still waiting for a breakout game from freshman Tyler Herro. Billed all offseason as the team’s top outside threat, Herros is shooting just 29.3 percent from three, though he did connect on three of his eight attempts in the win over UNC.

Like Louisville, Kentucky is among the best teams in the country when it comes to getting to the free-throw line. The Wildcats rank No. 7 in the country in free-throws attempted per field goals attempted (Louisville ranks first), and No. 43 in free-throw percentage (74.8 percent).

The Cards and Cats have one common opponent so far in Seton Hall. Louisville posted a 70-65 road victory over the Pirates on Dec. 1, while Kentucky fell to Kevin Willard’s team on a neutral court a week later (84-83 in OT).

TLDR Summary:

Strengths: Rebounding, inside scoring, getting to the free-throw line and converting, Ashton Hagans’ defense, Reid Travis and Keldon Johnson’s offense.

Weaknesses: Outside shooting (don’t let Tyler Herro breakout), turnovers, perimeter defense.


Louisville has an 81-5 record against non-conference opponents in the KFC Yum Center. The Cardinals have won 37 of their last 39 home games against non-conference opponents, and are 8-0 at home this season.

—Louisville leads the nation with 27.1 percent of its points coming from free throws. The Cards also rank 14th nationally in free-throw percentage (77.2 percent).

—Kentucky is ranked second in the country in rebounding margin and third in offensive rebounding percentage.

—At Kentucky, John Calipari is 9-2 against Louisville and 16-2 against in-state foes.

—Kentucky is just 3-6 in its first true road game of a season under John Calipari. The Cats are just 1-2 against Louisville when their first true road game of a season has come against the Cards. Saturday’s game at the KFC Yum Center will be UK’s first true road game of the 2018-19 season.

—Favorites have failed to cover the spread in eight of the last 10 meetings between these two teams.

—Kentucky’s P.J. Washington and Nick Richards and Louisville’s V.J. King are the only returning players who started last year’s game. Washington scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the UK win, while King scored 12 points and snagged four boards. Richards played only 17 minutes and scored four points. Of the three players, Washington is the only one expected to start on Saturday.

—Kentucky is 12-9 against Louisville in games played in the city of Louisville.

—Louisville is 18-16 all-time in games played on Dec. 29, winning six of its last eight on that date.

—This will be just the second time since the 2009-10 season — and the second straight year — that Louisville has faced Kentucky while unranked.

—Louisville has a 42-8 record during the month of December over the last six years, and is 5-1 so far this season.

—Kentucky is 6-2 all-time in games played inside the KFC Yum Center.

—This will be the first meeting between Louisville head coach Chris Mack and Kentucky head coach John Calipari.

—Louisville has won 18 of its last 24 games played immediately after Christmas.

—Louisville has won 147 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.

—Louisville is one of just four schools which have won 20 or more games on the court in each of the last 16 seasons (also Kansas, Duke and Gonzaga).

Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Kentucky 74, Louisville 73