It's the second time in three years that the Wildcats and Cardinals have met with high stakes on the line. Just two years ago, UK beat UofL at the Superdome in New Orleans in the national semifinals en route to its eighth national championship.
Not to be outdone, Louisville bounced back to win its third title last season, cutting down the nets in Atlanta.
Remarkably, it will be the sixth meeting between the two non-conference rivals in the last four years with UK holding a 5-1 advantage. What will be some of the keys if the Cats want to push that mark to 6-1? We break it down in this pregame scouting report:
Kentucky Keys to Win:
1. Attack the full-court pressure. With Louisville not having the interior depth it had in December, beating the pressure means the Cards must find a way to match up with UK's overwhelming size and physicality advantage with players like Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress.
2. James Young offense and defense on Luke Hancock and/or Russ Smith. If Young can keep finding his long-range stroke that he had against Wichita State and force both Hancock and Smith into bad shots, then UK can control the boards and set its offense without the dreaded full-court pressure.
3. Using their size as an advantage. It's not just in the paint where UK has a distinct size advantage. If all five Wildcats use their size against the smaller Louisville guards and forwards, excluding Luke Hancock, then they can either dribble-drive or pull up for uncontested shot. Force the smaller defender to hand-check or push the bigger players for position.
Key Player for Kentucky:
Julius Randle has to be ready to battle for 40 minutes. If he can play like he did in second half of the Wichita State game, Louisville has no one that can handle him pound for pound without fouling him. His spark on offense and defense surged throughout the entire team as UK fed off his energy in the upset of the top-seeded Shockers. If UK moves on to the Elite Eight for the fourth time since John Calipari arrived in Lexington, Randle will be the key to making it happen.
Louisville Keys to Win:
1. Being physical with the young Kentucky guards. If Chris Jones and Russ Smith can frustrate the Harrison Twins and get them in foul trouble, then Louisville will have an advantage in the backcourt. With this the Cards can set the tempo of the game and force Kentucky out of its comfort zone.
2. Forcing turnovers. If Louisville can force careless mistakes and convert them to easy baskets, it could be a long night for the Cats. Rick Pitino is known for his full-court pressure, but the Cards are causing just as much in their halfcourt defensive sets of late. UK didn't handle the pressure well earlier this month against Florida and struggled in two matchups with Arkansas. Those games could be telling.
3. Outside shooting. Louisville doesn't have the interior depth nor size to pound the paint constantly. Russ Smith, Chris Jones, Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock will have to shoot well from the arc if the Cards have any hope of advancing to their third consecutive Elite Eight.
Key Player for Louisville:
Luke Hancock will determine if Louisville keeps defending its crown or the dance ends tonight. He's not going to out-physical Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Julius Randle for rebounds, but he may out finesse them. If he can get his outside shot going early and often, the Cards have a better chance to win. He carried Louisville last year in Final Four. The Cats must be prepared to take him out of the game.