Big Blue Preview: Kentucky at Louisville
Intrastate rivals meet once again on Thursday when No. 9 Kentucky visits Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center in the Derby City.
Kentucky (8-2) had an impressive 87-83 win over North Carolina on Saturday. UK’s highly-ranked freshman class led the way as the Cats got their best win of the early portion of the season.
The Cats are led in scoring this season by Antonio Reeves, who scores 17.1 points per game. Rob Dillingham averages 14.4 points per game, while fellow freshmen Reed Sheppard and D.J. Wagner score 12.8 points per contest. Tre Mitchell averages 12.7 points and a team-high 6.2 rebounds per game, while Aaron Bradshaw has averaged 10.7 points over the three games in which he has played.
Kentucky has won four of the last five meetings between the rivals, and eight of the last 10. Overall, UK leads the series 38-17 and the Cats have won 13 of the 23 games between the teams in the city of Louisville.
Last year at Rupp Arena, the Cats got 24 points and 14 rebounds from Oscar Tshiebwe, and 24 points from Jacob Toppin, on the way to an 86-63 win over Louisville. Cason Wallace added 17 points for UK in the victory.
The Cardinals, under the direction of former UK assistant coach Kenny Payne, are 5-6 on the season. Louisville beat Pepperdine 85-63 on Sunday. Skyy Clark leads the Cards in scoring at 15.4 points per game, while Tre White averages 12.8 per outing.
Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on ESPN.
Last Time Out: North Carolina Recap
It was billed as a game between experience and talented youth. No. 9 North Carolina had a ton of experience, with players like RJ Davis and Armando Bacot. No. 14 Kentucky had its super-talented freshman class.
In the end, it was the talented freshmen from Kentucky who not only prevailed, but who handled the pressure down the stretch in an 87-83 win over North Carolina in Atlanta.
Kentucky’s last eight points, and 18 of its last 20, were scored by freshmen. Rob Dillingham came off the bench to lead UK with 17 points. Fellow freshman D.J. Wagner had 14, while classmate Aaron Bradshaw had 12. Reed Sheppard came off the bench to score 11. Add the eight points from Justin Edwards and Kentucky’s freshmen accounted for 62 of UK’s 87 points.
Kentucky (8-2) got out of the gates quickly behind Bradshaw, who scored five of UK’s first nine. The Cats would lead 11-4 early before Carolina scored four straight. The Cats would score the next six and would soon establish a 20-10 lead.
The Cats would go up by 11 at 24-13 on a Wagner layup. But after building the double-digit advantage, the Cats went cold. UK missed 10 shots in a row and had a stretch where it only made one out of 12 shots. However, the Cats were able to maintain the lead and that stretch came to an end on a Reed Sheppard jumper in the lane.
That was the first of three consecutive made shots for the Cats that gave UK a 10-point advantage, 37-27 with 4:27 left in the first half. UK would lead 40-30 with 2:45 left in the half but North Carolina scored the final eight points of the half to cut the UK advantage to 40-38 at the break.
Carolina tied the game for the first time early in the second half on a Cormac Ryan layup but Kentucky answered with seven in a row, staring with a Wagner three. After Ryan hit a three for the Tar Heels, UK scored the next eight, including threes from Reeves and Dillingham, to lead 55-43 with 15:23 to play.
The Tar Heels answered with six in a row in what would become a second half trend. The Cats would start to pull away but Carolina would make a run of it’s own. All the while, Kentucky never gave up the lead. Until UNC’s Armando Bacot hit a pair of free throws with 5:15 to play, giving the Tar Heels a 72-71 advantage.
That lead lasted exactly 16 seconds. Kentucky responded with layups from Bradshaw, and Dillingham twice, to lead 77-72 with 3:52 to play.
North Carolina would be able to climb within a single point once more, 81-80. From there, the Cats were able to make enough plays and hit enough free throws to hang on for the win. And it might not have been the same without this talented group of freshmen.
The State’s Best Rivalry
Separated my a mere 80 miles, Kentucky and Louisville are the bluebloods of the Bluegrass State. They have combined for more than 4,000 wins, 11 on-court national championships and 27 Final Fours, including a combined six since 2011. Countless All-Americans have put on uniforms for the two schools.
• UK owns an all-time record of 38-17 against the Cards, including a 12-3 mark since John Calipari took over the reins
• The Cats are 13-10 all-time when the game is played in Louisville • Two of UK’s victories under Calipari were when the stakes were at their highest in the NCAA Tournament. The first was in the 2012 Final Four in which Kentucky went on to win the national title. The second was in 2014 in the Sweet 16, as the Wildcats went on to the Final Four again
• Only four times — all UK victories — in those 15 games since Calipari took over has the game been decided by more than 10 points
• The two schools had a 24-year gap without a game following the 1959 meeting before the “Dream Game” revived the series in 1983. The two schools played each other every year since, except for last season’s contest which was canceled due to COVID concerns within the Louisville program
• The highest-scoring game came in 1991 when UK won 103-89
• Prior to Louisville’s win in 2016, Kentucky’s four-game winning streak in the series was the longest since UK won five straight from 1916-51