Funny thing about a great Rivalry like the Louisville vs Kentucky basketball game. Everyone knows when they first started to pay attention and everyone remembers that one great high and that one big low.
My favorite win in the Rivalry was that game in 2003… It had been six years since the Cardinals had won at Rupp Arena and they ended the Wildcats’ 27-game regular-season winning streak that season beating them 65-56. Kentucky was ranked #1 at the time. Louisville’s win also ended a strange streak – the winner of the annual Kentucky-Louisville football game had lost the basketball game between the schools each year since the football rivalry was resumed in 1994. Louisville also won that year’s football game 40-24.
The biggest low for me in the rivalry had been the loss in the Sweet 16 game back in 2014. Really thought that team had a repeat Championship in them and then to get knocked out of the tournament by them. But that all changed last year in that loss at Rupp Arena. Everything that Louisville group had been thru and then had to take that 29 point beating that day. It was awful. I think the weight of everything the program had been thru hit me that day. I covered the game in Lexington and I will never forget how that post game locker room felt. It was like entering a funeral and in some ways felt like the soul had been sucked from us all. Don’t want to ever be a part of a gameday-like that again.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since that day. What a difference a year can make in College sports. A year ago things looked so bleak but now the outlook couldn’t be better. Coach Mack has put a smile back on the player’s faces and back on the faces of the fans. Basketball is fun again in Louisville and you can just feel that redemption isn’t far behind. We owe the NCAA and College Basketball a payback but what Kentucky has coming their way is a reckoning.
Gone are the days of having a Coach who spent more time over the last 10 years comparing Kentucky to Camelot than he did planning how to beat them. With a 2-9 record against them to prove that. Coach Mack has a history of immersing himself in these kinds of rivalries. Just go watch some of those YouTube post-game videos when he was a part of the crosstown shootout with Cincy and Xavier. He is a guy that knows what a game like this means for the players and the fans involved. I’m looking forward to these Bluegrass battles with him at the helm.
Now about the game Saturday…
Kentucky is pretty much the same team they are every season around this time of year. A group of talented freshmen still learning how to play together and still learning the process of College Basketball. Saturday will be this young Kentucky team’s first true road game of the season. The last time Louisville beat Kentucky at the Yum Center they were coming off a big win against North Carolina and it was their first true road game. Let’s hope history does repeat itself.
The players that concern me the most on their team is Reid Travis a graduate transfer who is a two-time all-Pac-12 first-team player and is averaging 15.1 points and 6.5 rebounds a game this season. He has scored 20 or more points in four games. And Tyler Herro who is averaging 12.4 points and has drained 17 3-pointers this season. Both of these guys are very good players and are emotional guys. The kind of guys the rest of that team feeds off of. Can’t let either of them have a big day. The size advantage that UK has this season is also a bit concerning. They are using that size well ranked second in the country in rebounding margin and third in offensive rebounding percentage.
I’m confident that Coach Mack will dial up the right game plan to thwart these concerns and to compensate for that size advantage. I think the Cardinals will employ a very physical style of basketball on Saturday. And a lot will depend on which way the whistle blows as it often does in this rivalry game.
Last year I wrote an article before this game titled ”A Player that comes out of Nwora” and think I was a year behind as far as Dave Padgett was concerned. I always knew that Jordan Nwora would be that guy. I think on Saturday that he will be that guy. Jordan made his comments after the Robert Morris game saying all he wanted for Christmas was a win over UK. I think he’ll go out and get that win. He has the size and ability to match them.
CC and Steven Enoch will also be two other guys that will need to have a big day. Or at least a solid day. CC has been a solid leader for this team all season and he’ll have to run the offense effectively on Saturday. Look for him to drive and dish to the open man on the perimeter. UK hasn’t been great at defending the three-point shot. And Steven is another guy that can match the size and ability of UK’s post guys. He’ll need to bang with them and hopefully draw some fouls to get their guys in trouble. Stevens ability to shoot free-throws is a great weapon to have. If he is effective. I’ll say my sleeper of the game would be Ryan Mac. He has been a part of this rivalry for a few years and lost some tough ones. A kid with his moxie hasn’t forgotten about those losses either. I’d sure enjoy seeing him get some payback.
Coach Mack said in his weekly press conference that he doesn’t want a player on his team that doesn’t let an “ass whooping” like Kentucky gave us last year set with them a little. I can bet that game is still on the mind of our guys. It has sat on my mind for a year. It’s time for payback and it’s time for a new Era in this rivalry. Let’s hope that a new era starts 1-0.
The Rivalry game is always big for me but on Saturday it will mean just a little bit more. My son is 7 years old and has taken a big interest in Louisville sports this year. This will be our first time attending the Louisville vs Kentucky game together. There will be many more but this one is special. He is so excited. I want my Cardinals to win but I really want his Cardinals to win.
Cheer hard folks! And let’s hope we enjoy it.
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