The Wildcats are heavy favorites. They beat Louisville 69-62 in December and John Calipari's team boasts at least six future NBA players. Kentucky waltzed through the South Region on their way to the Final Four and most of the talking heads expect them to cruise to a title this weekend.
Louisville, though, has other ideas. The Cardinals don't have any projected draft picks, finished seventh in the Big East and came from behind to beat Florida in the West Region finals. But after winning the Big East Tournament and NCAA West Region, Rick Pitino's troops believe they can derail the Calipari Express and win Pitino's second national title - first at UofL.
Is it possible? Can Louisville slay Goliath?
Absolutely. But Louisville will have to play great to beat Kentucky. That means the Cards will have to defend like they did in the first matchup when they held Kentucky to 29 percent shooting and forced 21 turnovers. It also means the Cardinals will have to hold their own on the backboard, something they didn't do in December. And it means Louisville will have to shoot better than 32 percent, which is what they shot from the field against the Wildcats the last game, and stay out of foul trouble.
If Louisville can manage to accomplish those goals, the Cardinals can turn Mission Impossible into the Superdome Surprise Saturday in New Orleans.
A few statistics to ponder from the first match up between the two teams this season:
Points in the paint - UL 26-24
Points off turnovers - UK 19-15
Second chance - UK 20-6
Fast break points - UL 10-4
Rebounds - UK 57-31
Free Throws - UK 32-18
Let's examine a little closer how the Cards can beat the 'Cats:
Defensive reboundLouisville must keep Kentucky off the offensive board to have a chance to upset the favored Wildcats. Kentucky had 21 offensive rebounds in the first meeting, crushing the Cards 20-6 in second chance points, while getting to the free throw line 42 times. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was Louisville's chief nemesis in the first game, grabbing 6 offensive rebounds. Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 24 points and 19 rebounds. In the Wildcats loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC finals, Kidd-Gilchrist fouled out without a rebound. Containing Gilchrist and keeping him off the offensive board must be a top priority for Louisville Saturday.
Stay out of foul troubleLouisville could go a long way toward solving their rebounding issues vs. UK by keeping center Gorgui Dieng and power forward Chane Behanan out of foul trouble and on the court. Behanan, who had 16 rebounds against Michigan State and Florida to earn MOP of the West Region, picked up three early fouls in the first meeting vs. Kentucky and played just 15 minutes before fouling out. Dieng also was saddled by fouls in the second half against Kentucky. Fortunately, both players have largely stayed out of foul trouble in the NCAA Tournament, though Behanan was forced to play with four fouls vs. Florida down the stretch. Those two, who average 16.4 rebounds, combined for just 10 against Kentucky in large part because they were limited by fouls.
Minimize miscuesThough Louisville forced 21 turnovers in the first game against Kentucky, the Wildcats actually had more points off turnovers - 19-15. That's because Louisville wasn't able to take advantage of their opportunities, shooting just 32 percent while turning the ball over 14 times. Louisville has taken care of the ball much better during their Final Four run, committing just six turnovers against Florida while winning the points off turnovers battle 15-0 in the West Region finals. Louisville has taken good care of the basketball of late, averaging just nine turnovers in four NCAA Tournament games. The Cardinals will need a similar effort to beat Kentucky.
Limit transition opportunitiesLouisville did a great job limiting Kentucky's transition game in the first meeting, outscoring the Wildcats 10-4 on transition points. The Cardinals must limit Kentucky's fast break opportunities again to spring a major upset. Louisville changes ends defensively as well as any team in the country, but the two keys to slowing Kentucky's break will be limiting turnovers and negating long rebounds. The Cardinals did a great job limiting their opponents in transition in the West Regional, keeping Michigan State to six fast break points and the run and gun Gators to only two points (In four NCAA games, Louisville has allowed just 14 fast break points. No opponent has scored more than six points in transition vs. the Cards in the tourney). If the Cardinals slow Kentucky in transition and make the Wildcats earn baskets against their stingy half court 'hybrid' defense anything is possible.