Kentucky Wildcats, Louisville Cardinals set for Top 10 clash of contrasting styles

Kentucky head coach John Calipari says his young team should not feel pressure to deliver a perfect performance on Wednesday against arch-rival Louisville.

"You do not even have to be great," Calipari added, "but you better play."

The underlying emphasis in those pregame comments: the No. 6 Wildcats should brace for a bitterly competitive effort from the No. 10 Cardinals in UK's first true road game of the season.

The 7 p.m. ET tipoff at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville will feature a pair of 10-1 teams, although they arrived at that mark in contrasting fashion.

Kentucky, fresh off a thrilling 103-100 win over No. 7 North Carolina, ranks second nationally in scoring at 95.2 points per game and seventh in offensive efficiency. But the Wildcats find themselves in unusual defensive territory under Calipari, ranking No. 48 in defensive field goal percentage (.398) and No. 154 in scoring defense at 71.6 points per game. 

Meanwhile, Louisville ranks No. 66 in scoring at 78.5 points per game and No. 184 in field goal percentage (43.4) but features one of the nation's best defensive and rebounding teams. The Cards rank No. 3 in defensive efficiency, No. 5 in defensive field goal percentage (.395) and No. 10 in scoring defense at 59.4 points per game. They are 12th in rebound margin, pulling down 9.3 more than opponents on average. 

Asked about the Cards' defensive prowess, Calipari said: "They're long. They'll mix it up and play different ways. They switch, so they can switch pick-and-rolls. They'll switch one through five at times. They'll play their matchup zone and tilt it toward somebody to take away guys."

The most intriguing question entering this year's matchup is how Louisville head coach Rick Pitino will approach defending UK freshman guard Malik Monk, who is averaging a team-high 21.9 points per game and is coming off an explosive 47-point performance against North Carolina. It marked the highest scoring output for any player in Division I basketball this season. 

Typically, Pitino would have a defense designed to take away the opponent's top scorer, but UK poses a different challenge with a lineup that also features dangerous scoring threats in De'Aaron Fox (15.9 ppg), Isaiah Briscoe (15.9) and Bam Adebayo (12.6). 

"How will they play Malik?" Calipari pondered. "Will they trap? Will they switch? I imagine they'll try some different things, run at him with different people to make him think."

The UK boss stressed that Monk, who was 8-for-12 from 3-point range against the Tar Heels, must not settle for his jump shot. He said there will be opportunities for Monk to drive and get himself to the foul line against the Cards. The Arkansas native is shooting 82 percent from the line this season, but despite being as athletic as anyone on the team, he has made only 28 free throw attempts. 

Kentucky has won eight of nine matchups against Louisville since Calipari arrived in Lexington. The Cats outlasted the Cards 75-73 in last year's game at Rupp Arena, but played without one of their starters, Briscoe, who injured an ankle in pregame warm-ups.

"This is his kind of game," Calipari predicted, noting the sophomore guard's toughness and ability to rebound and defend.

"Look, they're a Top 10 team, and we're on the road. It's going to be a hard game."


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