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Louisville vs. Kentucky preview: Cards and Cats clash in annual Bluegrass rivalry game

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The hatred on the hardwood resumes Saturday afternoon.

Louisville v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Louisville Cardinals (5-1, 1-0) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (1-5, 0-0)

Game Time: 1:01 p.m.

Location: KFC Yum Center: Louisville, Ky.

Television: ESPN

Announcers: Dan Shulman (play-by-play) and Dick Vitale (analyst)

Favorite: Louisville by 4.5

Officials: Ron Groover, Ted Valentine, Doug Shows

Series: Kentucky leads, 37-16

Last Meeting: Kentucky won 78-70 in overtime on Dec. 28, 2019 in Lexington

Series History:

Probable Starting Lineups:

Statistics:

Kentucky’s Season to Date:

Relevant Videos:

About Kentucky:

Kentucky enters this weekend with a 1-5 record for the first time in nearly a century. Earlier this week, John Calipari sent freshman Cam’Ron Fletcher back home after Fletcher was seen sobbing on the bench — presumably due to lack of playing time — during the closing seconds of UK’s nationally televised loss to North Carolina. Kyle Tucker of The Athletic then reported that same day that Cal has been butting heads with some of the most notable leaders on the team, and that more defections were possible. Then, on Friday night, we found out that highly-touted freshman Terrance Clarke missed most of practice this week with a minor injury and could be out for the Louisville game.

So, yeah, the Cats are coming into this year’s rivalry game with a little less momentum than usual. That said, there are still non-rivalry, non-voodoo, non-whatever reasons for Louisville fans to have legitimate concerns about Kentucky.

For starters, there’s still plenty of talent on this UK roster, as is always the case. The most talented may be potential lottery pick B.J. Boston, who leads the team in scoring 14.5 ppg. Boston has been woeful from beyond the arc (17.2 percent) so far this season, and has had his fair share of struggles from inside it as well. Still, he is a dynamic athlete who can score points in a flurry, especially if he’s allowed to get out in transition, which makes Louisville’s propensity for committing live ball turnovers especially worrisome.

If you asked me to predict who Kentucky’s leading scorer will be on Saturday, I’d say Olivier Sarr, and I wouldn’t hesitate. The Wake Forest grad transfer had an absolutely atrocious performance against North Carolina, where he was too bothered by the strength and physicality of Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot to even attempt a shot. Unfortunately for Chris Mack, he doesn’t have a frontcourt that can do the types of things UNC’s can — or if he does, they haven’t shown it yet. Sarr is an incredibly skilled big man, and the only way to effectively limit those skills is to be extremely physical. We’re going to need to see much more of the Jae’Lyn Withers, Dre Davis and JJ Traynor that we saw against Charles Bassey and WKU than we’ve seen the past two games. If Sarr is allowed to catch the ball anywhere near the block, it’s game over.

The point guard position for Kentucky so far this season has been a “battle” between solid, but not overly gifted Creighton grad transfer Davion Mintz, and highly-touted but wildly inconsistent Devin Askew — the former Louisville lean who referred to U of L as “that other school” earlier this week. Mintz has clearly been the more effective floor general to date, but Askew gives the Wildcats their best shot at reaching their ceiling, which almost guarantees that Calipari will give him at least a few more chances to be the man running the show, or at least to share the backcourt with the vet. He’s also coming off likely his best performance of the season, a 12-point, three assist, four rebound effort in the loss to North Carolina. Mintz, it should be noted, was even better, scoring 17 points and snagging eight rebounds while playing 37 minutes.

While his offense has been erratic at best, 6’10 freshman Isaiah Jackson has been a solid compliment to Sarr in that he’s more athletic, more aggressive, a better shot blocker and a better rebounder. He leads the team in both of those last two categories (2.5 bpg/8.7 rpg).

If Clarke is limited or unable to play, it will likely mean even more minutes for Jacob Toppin, a sophomore forward who so far this season has looked ... well, like a guy who was a below average player for a just ok Rhode Island team last year. Toppin may mature to a point where he at least moderately resembles his more famous older brother, but he’s very far away from that bar right now. Louisville defenders should dare Toppin to beat them any time he’s on the floor and has the ball in his hands.

What Kentucky does well: Have athletes, score in transition, defend in the halfcourt, block shots, snag offensive rebounds, limit three-point makes from their opponents.

What Kentucky does not do well: Make shots from any spot on the floor, take care of the ball, not cry on the bench, force turnovers, win games.

Notable:

—Louisville has won 85 of its last 89 non-conference games at home in the KFC Yum Center, a mark which spans the last 11 seasons.

—Kentucky is riding a five-game losing streak for the first time under John Calipari and for the first time overall since the 1989-90 season.

—The Wildcats are off to a 1-5 start for the first time since the 1926-27 season.

—This is the first time since the 2007-08 season that both teams enter the annual rivalry game unranked. Josh Chichester made a turnaround jumper, the Cardinals won the game by 14, and then went on to reach the NCAA tournament Elite Eight that year.

—John Calipari is 17-7 against Louisville overall, and 11-2 against the Cards as the head coach of Kentucky.

Favorites have failed to cover the spread in eight of the last 12 meetings between these two teams.

—Louisville has started with at least a 5-1 record through six games for the 11th time in the last 13 years.

—Louisville has won 18 of its last 26 games played immediately after Christmas.

—New toys will be collected and subsequently donated to Norton’s Childrens Hospital and Home of the Innocents prior to the Cardinals’ Dec. 26 game.

—Carlik Jones is the only player in the ACC to rank among the top 20 in each of scoring (10th in the ACC, 16.0 ppg), rebounding (16th, 6.4 rpg) and assists (1st, 5.6 apg).

—Louisville has a 47-12 record in the month of December over the last eight years.

—As Kentucky’s head coach, John Calipari is 20-2 against other programs from the state of Kentucky.

—Kentucky is averaging 16.7 turnovers per game, leading to an average of 19.3 points for the opposition.

—Louisville is 9-13 all-time in home games against Kentucky.

—Louisville is 8-3 all-time in games played on Dec. 26, winning three of its last four on that date.

—The team that has won the battle of the shooting percentages has won 11 of the last 13 games in this series.

—Since 2004, Louisville is 124-0 when leading by more than 10 points at halftime.

—Louisville is 22-0 over the last two seasons when scoring at least 71 points, including 4-0 this season

—Louisville has won 162 consecutive games when holding an opponent under 50 points.

—Louisville has won 155 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 18 seasons. Gonzaga, Duke and Kansas are the others.

Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville 69, Kentucky 65