Sophomore forward Mike Marra was already slated to miss the game against the Wildcats with an ankle injury, and reserve point guard Elisha Justice has missed the past two games with a concussion. Thursday Rick Pitino announced the sophomore power forward Rakeem Buckles won't play against Kentucky after fracturing his finger in practice Thursday morning, another major blow for the Cardinals.
"It's a tough loss," Pitino said. "We've had tough losses starting with [Jared] Swopshire (probably out for the season with a groin-related injury), and then we had Bullet [Elisha Justice] and Mike [Marra].
"We're used to it now. It really doesn't affect us as much mentally as you may think. It will affect us physically obviously because he's our leading rebounder."
Though Buckles had been replaced in the starting lineup recently by 6-foot-5 junior forward Kyle Kuric, the 6-foot-8 sophomore was still the leading rebounder for a team that was out-rebounded by 20 in their only loss this season to Drexel.
"It affects our [rotation] significantly," Pitino said. "We've got to get Stephan Van Treese to step up in that position....And we've got to get Terrence Jennings to rebound. That's what we need."
"He creates a matchup problem for every team they play because he can step outside," Pitino said of Jones. "He's a heck of a basketball player in that he now posts up more and he'll pose a matchup problem even when our five is guarding him. That's one of the things we have to work on with our defensive rotations."
Last year, Kentucky pulled away late for a nine point win in a heated affair that featured 51 personal fouls and five technicals. Though the Wildcats lost most of the key players from that team, John Calipari reloaded with another talented group of freshmen.
While Jones leads Kentucky in scoring and rebounding, freshman guards Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb have boosted the Wildcats perimeter firepower. Knight averages 17.4 points, while Lamb adds 14 per game. Kentucky, an improved three-point shooting team this season, rank 14th nationally in three-point shooting percentage.
"They're a lot different than they were last year because they shoot it so well," said Pitino. "They're great in transition. Anytime you play against a great offensive basketball team you've got to organize your defense to try to stop them. I think it's a great challenge."
Pitino says the Wildcats excel driving to the basket, which puts pressure on their opponents.
"They get you in foul trouble," Pitino said. "They generally make more free throws than other teams attempt because they drive at you so hard. They're very good off the bounce. And they're a very good passing team."
Though Calipari hinted that Kentucky might try to slow the pace against Louisville after his team's 91-61 win over Coppin State earlier this week, Pitino expects a frenetic pace when these teams meet Friday afternoon. He also believes Kentucky's focus defensively will be to take away Louisville's three-point shooting. The Cardinals made 33-of-53 three's in wins over WKU and Morgan State the past two games.
"I think both teams are going to try to run and try to get easy baskets," Pitino said. "They're not going to let us shoot the basketball like the last two teams. They're not going to give us the outside shot. They play mostly man-to-man and they aggressively get after you with solid defense."
Pitino said it will be key for his team to take good shots to keep Kentucky's fast-break relatively in check.
"It starts with good shot selection and offensive rebounding," Pitino said. "They outlet the ball not to halfcourt, but very high. They're very fast in the open court, and now they shoot it real well at multiple positions. So it even makes it more difficult than even last year when they were a very good fast break team."
And if Louisville's doesn't slow the Wildcats down in the open court? "We better do it," Pitino said. "If we don't we won't be within 30."
Pitino said he doesn't expect a repeat of last season's slug-fest in Lexington, which he chalked up to John Calipari's first game in the series as Kentucky's coach.
"The two teams are going to play hard and this is going to be more of a scorers game than you saw last year," Pitino said. "Both teams have an offensive mentality to get out on the break and it's going to be a great game for the fans."
Even without Marra and Buckles, Pitino expects his short-handed Cardinals to play hard and compete against higher-ranked Kentucky.
"I know our guys are going to play really hard, they're going to give us 100 percent and they're going to pay attention," Pitino said. "If we lose we're going to move on to the next game. But I know they're focused in and they'll play hard. This is just a fun team to coach."
Date: Friday, Dec. 31
Time:12:06 p.m. ET
TV: CBS (Ch. 32 in Louisville) will televise the game, with Gus Johnson (play-by-play) and Clark Kellogg (color) calling the action.
Radio:WKRD (790 AM, 101.7 FM) will broadcast the game on radio, with Paul Rogers (play-by-play) and Bob Valvano (color) calling the action.
SIRIUS: Game will be available on SIRIUS Channel 125 and XM Channel 203.
Series History: Kentucky leads the all-time series, 27-14 (Louisville is 6-11 at home, 6-14 in Lexington and 2-2 at neutral sites).
Officials: Jim Burr, Michael Stephens, Mike Stuart