Well, we didn’t have to wait until next year for another “Battle of The Bluegrass,” as these teams will meet Friday night exactly three months after they squared off in Lexington.
This time it isn’t just bragging rights at stake, instead a trip to the Elite 8 and keeping National Title dreams are on the table.
Kentucky won the meeting earlier this year 73-66. These teams were very different from then. Kentucky was still wet behind the ears, playing only a few of games together.
Louisville was surrounded by uncertainty. Nobody knew what was going on with Chane Behanan, who was dismissed following that game. They also didn’t know when Kevin Ware was coming back. There were also questions about which players were going to fill roles.
One player that stepped to fill the void of those players has been Montrezl Harrell. Although he only contributed 6 pts and 4 rebs in first battle, he averages 14 points and 8 boards for the season.
Chris Jones and Russ Smith were the only Cardinals players in double figures as they combined for 37 points. Smith missed five free throws down the stretch of that game which could have helped during a 17-7 UK run in the second half.
Kentucky only had 21 minutes from Julius Randle in December’s meeting. He played the first half but hardly played any in the second due to muscle cramps in his legs.
Randle ended up with 17 pts but only 3 rebs. He was helped by 18 points each by Andrew Harrison and James Young. Aaron Harrison also pitched in 10.
A couple things I am looking for in the next meeting are how Kentucky handles the press and the matchup zone of Louisville. If they come out wild and out of control then the Cats’ resurgent run will be over. They must knock down open shots because Randle is going to command a lot of attention.
I still don’t think Louisville respects the Wildcats shooters. They will live with a few made threes. I just hope that Randle plays like he did against Wichita State. It wasn’t his double-double effort that caught my eye but his 6 assists. He was spotting the double team before it could come and found the open man.
Kentucky’s identity has been centered around rebounding all season. They must continue to dominate this area to give them easy second chance looks while erasing second opportunities for the Cards.
They will also have to corral Russ Smith. He will shoot it and he will make his fair share. But Kentucky must limit layups and open threes. They must also keep him from getting to the foul line for uncontested opportunities. He can easily go for 40 if you let him, but he can also shoot his team out of an offensive flow.
It will come down to a total team effort. The winner will be balanced on the offensive end and stout on the defensive end.
I’m sure Louisville is looking for redemption, but they must combat the recent effort of a hot Kentucky team who is finally playing for each other, their coach, and #BBN.
Stats from: ESPN.com
Picture From: wlky.com