Pitino will learn if rookies ready for Rupp

The Louisville Cardinals enter Saturday's showdown with No. 22 Kentucky 6-0 and ranked fourth-nationally. But even with their lofty ranking and perfect record, Louisville coach Rick Pitino doesn't know how good his young team really is. He should find out quickly against the Wildcats (6-3).

The Louisville Cardinals enter Saturday's showdown with No. 22 Kentucky 6-0 and ranked fourth-nationally. But even with their lofty ranking and perfect record, Louisville coach Rick Pitino doesn't know how good his young team really is.

He should find out quickly against the Wildcats (6-3).

In six games this season, U of L hasn't played a game outside Freedom Hall. With seven newcomers on his roster, and his two best inside players – Juan Palacios and David Padgett - recovering from off-season injuries, Pitino said he's had no way to gauge how his team will perform in its first significant road test of the season.

"I really don't know what to expect from our basketball team," said Pitino, who is 2-2 against Kentucky. "There's nothing to gauge right now how we're going to play because we're just coming off some serious injuries."

Two years ago, an experienced Louisville squad overcame a double-digit first half deficit to knock off then-No. 1 ranked Kentucky in Rupp Arena 65-56. This time around, Pitino simply has no way of knowing whether or not his team can overcome similar adversity.

"I don't know how we'll react to playing with a lead or playing from behind," Pitino said. "Two years ago we were behind but we had an experienced and solid foundation and we did not shake. With seven new players, I don't know if the foundation will shake when the heat's turned up."

What Pitino does know is that this game will provide his team great experience for the tough road games they'll face in the Big East Conference later this season.

"Our message the whole week has been that we're going to play in this type of atmosphere about seven or eight times this year," explained Pitino. "This is great preparation for what's about to happen in the (Big East). Kentucky has as strong a home court advantage as there is in college basketball. So it will be a good challenge for our team."

The Cardinals will rely heavily on several newcomers against the Wildcats. David Padgett, a first year transfer from Kansas, and freshman small forward Terrence Williams, will both start. Four other freshmen, including 6-9 center Brian Johnson and 5-11 point guard Andre McGee, could be counted on in relief. Pitino, though, says he's not worried about his newcomers.

"Believe it or not, I don't worry about the freshmen as much as I do the other guys," Pitino said. "I think the freshmen are oblivious and they're not smart enough to be nervous. The other guys realize the magnitude of the game."

Kentucky is coming off their worst loss in 16 years, a 79-53 loss to Indiana last Saturday, in which the Wildcats made just 2-of-27 three-pointers. Pitino's believes the Wildcats cold shooting against IU was an abnormality.

"They're a good shooting team," he said. "They had a poor shooting night in the dome against Indiana, but they've got great experience back and they have size and strength in the low-post. They've got great players at the 1, 2, and 3 spots and good players at the 4 and 5 spots."

Pitino said UK, which has made 36 percent from three-point range this season, has several dangerous long-range shooters.

"It's not just (Patrick) Sparks. Ravi Moss can hit the three, (Rekalin) Sims can hit the three, Sparks can hit the three, and (Ramel) Bradley is a terrific scorer," Pitino said. "So they've got a lot of offensive weapons. When they're shooting the ball well, they're tough to beat."

The key for Louisville might be containing point guard Rajon Rondo. The 6-1 sophomore leads Kentucky in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals, and is a major catalyst for the Wildcats' offensively.

"He gets everybody good shots, and he's a one man wrecking crew defensively," Pitino said. "He's great on the break and he's a terrific rebounder. He's a heck of a basketball player."

Louisville guard Brandon Jenkins figures to be charged with stopping Rondo for the Cardinals. The 6-3 junior, considered one of Louisville's best on-ball defenders, said he relishes the idea of guarding the opposing team's best player.

"I hope I get to guard him, he's a great player," Jenkins said. "You've got to worry about boxing him out. He leads the team in points, steals, and rebounds. He does it all for their team. If coach puts me on him, I'm going to try my best to stop him."

Jenkins also said that playing with confidence will be another big key for his team.

"They're a little shaky right now," Jenkins said of Kentucky. "They've lost three big games, and we know they're going to be ready to play and come after us hard. We've just got to go in there and be confident."

Juan Palacios could play a big role in the games outcome, too. Last year, Palacios scored 11 first half points to help the Cardinals take a 16 point halftime lead. However, Palacios played just three minutes in the second half after Rondo gauged his eye, and the Wildcats pulled out a 60-58 win without him in the lineup.

Palacios returned to practice twice Thursday after tweaking his right ankle Tuesday night in a 78-54 win over Chicago State. By all accounts, he'll be ready to go against Kentucky today.

"He's going to play," Pitino said. "Hopefully we'll have a big effort from him."

"He's a gamer," Louisville guard Taquan Dean added. "He'll be ready."

Pitino figures to learn a lot about his team against Kentucky. Hopefully, he'll be happy with the results afterward. One thing seems certain; Pitino will have the Cardinals prepared for their biggest challenge yet.

"You never know what's going to happen in a rivalry game because there is so much emotion," Pitino said. "We're going in with a strong desire to win this game. We've got to handle it like any other basketball game with great preparation, great hustle, and staying tough mentally every play."

Join us for the official Inside The Ville Game Watch at the Bluegrass Brewing Company in St. Matthews for the U of L - UK game. To reserve your place, call the BBC - (502) 899-7070.

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