Game Day: Cards vs. Cats

It's game day for the Battle of the Bluegrass. Louisville (11-1) will travel to Lexington to meet Kentucky on a 4 o'clock tip in Rupp Arena. Cardinal Authority has a preview of the game.

When University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino spoke to the media at his Friday press conference, the Hall of Famer presented a laundry list of challenges that the team will face when they meet No. 18 Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.

With a record of 9-3, not only are the Wildcats just the second ranked opponent that Louisville has faced this year, they're also arguably the most athletic and talented.

But Pitino's biggest concern isn't the opponent's ranking, a possible holiday break-hangover, or even the fact that the Cardinals must play Kentucky on their home-court. The thing that concerns Pitino most about the team's roster of future NBA Draft picks is their size.

"They're the tallest team in America," Pitino said of the Wildcats. "We have a thin front-court in terms of numbers, and we're not all that big. So their size is going to pose problems for us."

While Pitino's concerns are clear, Kentucky's height-advantage cannot be understated- the size differential between the Cards and ‘Cats is outstandingly lopsided.

No one in Kentucky's starting lineup is less than 6-foot-6. The Cards, on the other hand, have just six players on their entire roster that stand 6-6 or taller.

The difference is most glaring between the two teams' backcourts. Cardinal guards Russ Smith (listed at a generous 6-feet), Terry Rozier (6-foot-1), and Chris Jones (5-foot-10), will be matched against players a half-foot taller than them in Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, and James Young- each of whom are 6-foot-6.

Russ Smith, who also spoke with the media on Friday, said that the opponent's size won't change his approach, and that it's all a matter of fundamentals.

"You kind of just have to make them play defense as well," Smith said of taking on bigger guards. "But at the end of the day stick to your defensive principles- challenge the shot, and not get too down."

Smith has played well when marked by taller players before. In last season's meeting with Kentucky, he scored 21 points, all while being guarded by former Wildcats Archie Goodwin (6-foot-4) and Ryan Harrow (6-foot-2). More impressively, Smith went for 31 in last year's NCAA Sweet Sixteen, when guarded by Oregon's 6-foot-5 Damyean Dotson.

As for the frontcourt, Pitino believes good rebounding will be key for the Cardinals in combating the Wildcats' superior length. The coach recalls the Cardinals' loss to No. 19 North Carolina, a game in which Louisville was out-rebounded 40-35 to make his point.

"We don't rebound the ball very well. We got taken to the woodshed by North Carolina physically in the front-court," Pitino said. "And when you're thinking of North Carolina, you don't think of (their size)."

"Kentucky's front-court is taller and more physical than North Carolina's"

Pitino will attack UK's front-court with a mix of forwards Montrezl Harrell, Chane Behanan, and Stephan Van Treese, and center Mangok Mathiang.

When asked if he would play Behanan and Harell together on Saturday, Pitino stated that it would be difficult to do so, once again referencing Kentucky's size. He was, however, quick to defend Mathiang and the impact he may have on the game.

"Mangok's a better shot-blocker than those guys. He bothers people, he uses his quickness," Pitino said of his 6-foot-10 redshirt freshman center. "He's more effective than you think."

Tipoff for the annual Battle for the Bluegrass is set for 4 p.m. The game will be broadcast by CBS.

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