Kuric, Louisville's 'quiet' senior forward, struggled to get going in the first meeting against Kentucky. Though he played 38 minutes, the 6'4 Kuric managed just four shots as the Wildcats elected to 'stay at home' and deny him open perimeter looks. Kuric made only 1 of 4 shots on the day, finishing with just two points and two rebounds.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino knows elevating Kuric's play is critical to his team's chances of winning in Saturday's 6 p.m. national semifinal against the heavily favored 'Cats.'
"We've got to get Kyle Kuric playing to a higher level," Pitino said.
Kuric most likely will be matched up against Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who killed Louisville in the first meeting with 24 points and 19 rebounds. Kuric won't be able to hang out on the perimeter hoping to get free against the 6'6 future NBA Draft lottery pick.
Kuric has scored in double figures in six of the Cards eight post-season wins despite making two or fewer threes in all eight contests. Though Kuric didn't get to the foul line against Michigan State or Florida in the West Regional, he did make 3 of 5 free throws against Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament second round; 4 of 4 vs. Marquette in quarterfinals and 7 of 10 against Davidson and New Mexico in the first two NCAA games in Portland.
"Whether it's running in transition or getting to the glass, [I] just pretty much [have to do] anything I can to get a shot," said Kuric.
Though he'll need to produce more offensively to give Louisville a chance, Kuric's biggest - and most important - challenge is helping contain Kidd-Gilchrist. That will be no easy chore, especially considering Kidd-Gilchrist's success against Kuric and the Cardinals in the first meeting in Lexington three months ago.
"I'm not really worried about offense, we're more worried about stopping them," said Kuric. "I could have been a little more aggressive [in the first game]. But I could care less if I score thirty or five I just want to win. This team is more focused on defense and how we can stop them."
Fellow senior Chris Smith said rebounding will be the key against Kentucky. Smith also said Kuric is going to have to provide more help on the boards this go around against the Wildcats. Keeping Kidd-Gilchrist off the offensive glass will be one of Kuric and the Cardinals biggest tasks.
"We have to rebound the basketball way better than we did the last time," Smith said. "I think we got out rebounded by 26. We have Chane and Gorgui playing well and Peyton is rebounding also. Kyle will have to [help] in the rebounding."
Louisville has been busy preparing a game plan to stop Kentucky this week. The Cardinals left for New Orleans Wednesday and Kuric believes his team is better prepared than they were in the first meeting to knock off the 36-2 Wildcats.
"I think we're playing a lot better than we did then," Kuric said. "Our defense has gotten a lot better, we're playing more as a team. I think we've progressed a lot more than they have….
"Everybody is real focused on the game. It's a huge game for the state. We're just really focused and excited to play them."