How difficult is No. 4 Louisville's New Year's Eve assignment against No. 3 Kentucky (12-1) in Rupp Arena?
"To win, we're going to have to be nearly perfect," point guard Peyton Siva said.
That may be an exaggeration, but only a small one. The Wildcats have NBA prospects at every position and are 42-0 at Rupp under coach John Calipari. UofL, meanwhile, is coming off its first loss of the season, 71-68 against No. 12 Georgetown Wednesday night, and will be playing only its second road game (noon, CBS) and first in six weeks following a 10-game homestand.
"They're a great team," Siva said. "They execute really well and can score from all five positions. It's a crazy arena, crazy fans, crazy rivalry. They're going to get after you right when you get off the bus. So we have to keep our heads strong and stick together."
UofL coach Rick Pitino took a page from football coach Charlie Strong's playbook, saying that "I think Kentucky is the better basketball team right now," the same ploy Strong used before UofL beat UK 24-17.
"Kentucky is a terrific basketball team and they are very tough to guard in so many different ways," Pitino added. "They've got a lot of bigs and they've got more experience than they've had. Even (compared to) their great teams, they shoot it better from both the foul line and the field, so that's very dangerous. They're also very good in transition."
There are numerous keys for the Cards. The players mentioned ball containment -- in other words, stopping the drives of guards Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller. UofL will probably have to shoot 3-pointers better than its 32.1 percent season average and defend the three better than it has lately. The Cards also need to improve the execution of their half-court offense while limiting their turnovers and at least holding their own on the boards. And center Gorgui Dieng has to stay out of foul trouble.
All in all, a tall order.
"We have to contain the ball well, follow coach's game plan , rebound well, keep our turnovers low and prevent them from running out because they're a great running team," UofL guard Russ Smith said. "I think very highly of them, we all do. Offensively, they're great and defensively they're athletic enough to lock down, so we're going to have to do a lot of stuff to get our guys open and get into an offensive sequence."
UK is shooting 49.5 percent on the season, 16th in the nation; is second in the country in blocked shots at 10.0 per game and leads the nation in field goal defense at 33.7 percent. Anthony Davis, the Cats' 6-10 freshman center, leads the team in rebounding at 10.0 per game and in blocks at 4.4, second in the nation.
"Every guy on their team is pretty much a pro," UofL senior guard Chris Smith said. "So we have to play hard and keep our composure."
Even though UofL lost to Georgetown, two of its players turned in one of their better performances of the season. Kyle Kuric made a season-high five 3-pointers while scoring 17 points, getting four turnovers and playing a turnover-free 40 minutes. Siva was more aggressive going to the basket and had 15 points, six assists and five steals. But he'll have a tougher time driving the lane against UK's tall and lengthy shot-blockers in the paint.
"Coaches have been telling me to be more aggressive, get into the lane and finish at the basket, so that's something I'm trying to do," Siva said. Sometimes it went my way (against Georgetown) and sometimes it didn't. Now I've got to put it all together going to the rim and finding my teammates."
An up-tempo style is when the Cards are at their best, but Pitino suggested it would be suicidal to try and run with the Cats and that UofL's best chance is to be more patient and disciplined on offense and not take quick shots like Kuric and Russ Smith each did in the final minutes against the Hoyas.
"Running up and down and trying to outscore Kentucky would be a futile attempt to try to get a 'W'," Pitino said. "But I think if you play half-court basketball, you'll take yourself out if it's something you're not used to. You've got to play how we played (vs. Georgetown), but you can't take (hurried) shots or Kentucky will make you pay. You've got to do everything. You've got to go in transition, you've got to make them play you on defense. They've got a very strong homecourt advantage. It's going to be a tough game."
UK leads the modern-era series that started in 1983, 19-11, and has won five of the last seven. The Cards' last win in Rupp came in 2008, 89-75.
Louisville SportsReport: UK Preview Edition