After falling 71-68 against Georgetown Wednesday night, Rick Pitino's No. 4 Cardinals travel to Lexington Saturday to take on third-ranked Kentucky. Pitino, 0-2 against UK coach John Calipari, hopes to hand his nemesis his first loss at Rupp Arena.
"I think Kentucky is the better basketball team right now," Pitino said.
After winning their first 12 games, Louisville fell to the Hoyas for two primary reasons: Free throw shooting and subpar three-point defense. Louisville made only 10 of 17 fouls shots, missing front end of the bonus twice late in the game, while the Hoyas made 18 of 24 fouls shots. The Hoyas also converted 7 of 11 three-pointers, many coming on wide open looks.
Louisville will have to improve those two areas to upset Kentucky on the road. Pitino will also have to devise a game-plan to slow the Wildcats, perhaps the most talented team in college basketball. Kentucky's five starters could play in the NBA next season.
"Running up and down and trying to outscore Kentucky would be a futile attempt to try to get a ‘W,'" said Pitino. "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 do everything. You've got to go in transition. You've got to make them play you on defense. You can't take the first or second shot. It's going to be a tough game. Obviously, you know they haven't lost at home, so it's a very strong home court advantage."
Since taking over at Kentucky, Calipari has an untarnished 43-0 record at home. The key to ending that streak for Louisville will be two-fold – keeping the Wildcats fast-break in check, while executing better offensively than the past few games.
"Our guys haven't seen Kentucky play," Pitino said. "I don't think they realize how good they are. They are a terrific basketball team and they are very tough to guard. I've seen them a few times and they are very tough to guard in so many different ways. They are great on the break. They are a very good team defensively and that causes a lot of offensive (troubles) so we've got to really study. It's more about personnel than it is any sets."
There's no question Kentucky has better talent than Louisville, though Pitino's squad is more experienced in the backcourt and small forward. The Wildcats are also longer than the Cardinals at just about every position. That means Pitino must devise ways to combat UK's balance and versatility.
"I think I'm worried about everybody," Pitino said. "They've got great shot blocking. I think (Doron) Lamb is a terrific shooter. (Darius) Miller is a terrific shooter. They've got a lot of bigs and they've got more experience than they've had. Even when they've had great teams, they shoot it better from both the foul line and the field so I think that's very dangerous. They're also very good defensively and very good in transition."