However, unlike last season when Garcia and Dean had the advantage of playing the rivalry game on their home court with the benefit of senior starters Reece Gaines, Marvin Stone and Erik Brown to handle the pressure of the game, the sophomores will now be expected to take the Cards into Rupp Arena today to face the #2 Kentucky Wildcats.
Last season, Dean, who is coming off a career high 31 points against VMI in which he set the school record by making nine three pointers against the Keydets, made his mark as a tough, hard nosed defender by shutting down the Wildcats heady point guard, Cliff Hawkins, in their head to head matchup. Hawkins scored just two points against the then freshman guard from Neptune, New Jersey and had little impact on the game.
This time around, Dean, who averages 13.9 points and boasts the fourth best assist to turnover ratio in C-USA, will have the added responsibility of running the U of L offense, in addition to the assignment of guarding UK's veteran point guard on defense.
"He provides relentless pressure," Pitino said Hawkins. "On the flip side Taquan's going to give him relentless pressure. And I believe Taquan's able to handle it. But Hawkins will be as fine a defensive player as Taquan will see all year."
Garcia, who leads Louisville in scoring with 18.6 points per game, has also become a potent force with his passing abilility to set up easy shots for his teammates. Three times this season Garcia has handed out eight assists an because of that success, U of L Head Coach Rick Pitino expects Tubby Smith to focus his team's defensive effort to stopping Garcia's penetration and passing.
Francisco Garcia (ITV)
Garcia also realizes that Kentucky will try to take away his strenghts but seemed to understand how to counter the Wildcats approach.
"I know they're a good defensive team so I won't be able to go to the hole like I have against some of the other teams," Garcia explained. "So what I have to do is just pass the ball earlier and find the open man earlier because they're a great defensive team."
Through seven games this season, Louisville hasn't played a true road game and the trip to Lexington will probably be the toughest environment most of the young Cardinals have been forced to play in their young careers. Still, U of L's talented sophomore leaders relish the idea of playing such a big game on the road.
"I'm really looking forward to playing in their arena," Garcia said. "We can't worry about what their fans say to us, they're going to yell a lot of stuff. I'm going to stay focused on my game. What happens on the court is going to decide who wins the game. So we just have to stay focused on what's going on on the court."
Taquan Dean (ITV)
As if they knew how to play any other way, Garcia said the Wildcats can count on the Cards coming in ready to go to war for the entire forty minutes and both he and Dean say the Cards will have to be ready and composed to overcome Kentucky's patented runs.
"We're going to go over there and play hard for forty minutes," Garcia said. "We have to play hard for forty minutes to beat this team because they're great. I think they have a lot of pressure because they came here and lost the game last year and that was the last game that they lost in the regular season."
"Me and Taquan talked about that last night," Garcia said of being composed under Rupp Arena's pressure. "They're great at home so I know we'll have to survive their run because they're going to make one. When that happens we just have to stay focused and calm ourselves down."
Thankfully for Louisville fans, Garcia and Dean understand all to well how to step up and play with courage despite facing adversity. And one thing remains certain. No matter how loud or obnoxius the UK fans get inside Rupp Arena today, it'll be nothing U of L's talented sophomores won't be able to handle.