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Kentucky Wildcats vs. Louisville Cardinals: Breaking down the Cards

As Wildcat fans prepare for the biggest game of the young season, here is a comprehensive break down of the Louisville Cardinals.

Louisville's Montrezl Harrell displaying emotion
Louisville's Montrezl Harrell displaying emotion
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday afternoon in Rupp Arena, the No. 18 Kentucky Wildcats (9-3) and No. 4/6 Louisville Cardinals (11-1) once again renew one of the nastiest, most intense rivalries in all of college athletics. The 'Cats and Cards come into the contest with each program looking for its first win over a top 25 opponent this season -- UK is 0-3 vs. the AP Top 25, while Louisville is 0-1 (versus the RPI 26-through-100, Kentucky is 4-0, while the Cards check in at 3-0).

As part of A Sea of Blue's comprehensive coverage of the nation's biggest basketball rivalry, I break down, player-by-player, the University of Louisville roster:

Russ Smith, 6-0 senior guard

Louisville's best player, Smith is averaging 16.8 points, 5.0 assists, 2.4 turnovers and 1.7 steals per game .

  • Known as an outside shooting threat, this season Smith has been inconsistent at best from beyond the arc -- On the year, Smith is making 33.3 percent of his shots from distance (24-72), and has six (of 12) games this season with one or fewer made treys. In those six contests, Smith has connected on 3-of-23 from distance (13.0 percent), while averaging 13.2 points per game.
  • In Smith's other six contests, he nailed 21-of-49 from long-range (42.9 percent), and averaged 20.3 points per game.
  • Forty-five percent of Smith's shots come from beyond the arc (72-159).
  • A solid 2-point shooter, Smith is true on 55.2 percent of his attempts from inside the arc (48-87), and takes an average of 7.3 two-point shots per game (he averages six 3-point tries per contest).
  • Smith is also a competent free throw shooter, making 73.3 percent of his shots from the charity stripe (33-45), on an average of 3.8 free tosses per game.
  • Since scoring 36 points in Louisville's setback to North Carolina, Smith has not scored over 18 points in the seven games since.
  • In the month of December, Smith is 7-of-22 from outside the arc (31.8 percent), 18-of-35 inside the arc (51.4 percent), and is averaging 13.8 points per contest.

Quick-hit Card analysis: Best described as a streaky shooter, Smith is capable of putting up huge numbers and carrying the Cards to victory (aka as being "Russ-diculous"), while at other times the diminutive guard will struggle with his shot and minimally contribute to the Louisville scoring column. Smith, though, must be respected as both a shooter and driver. The dilemma facing UK is whether to sag off of Smith on the perimeter, possibly allowing him open looks, or guard him tightly and risk him penetrating and shooting, or penetrating, drawing defenders, then dishing. UK's starting guards, who all have at least a five inch height advantage on Smith, must use their length to cut off passing lanes and force Smith onto parts of the floor he doesn't want to go. If Smith gets into the lane, which he will do, Willie Cauley-Stein must ignore the shot fake, and alter or swat Smith's close-up looks. Finally, in transition defense, the 'Cats must get someone in front of the speedy Smith before he, a) gets into the lane for an easy bucket, or b) has an opportunity to create an easy basket with the dish.

Chris Jones, 5-10 junior guard

An exceptionally quick athlete, Jones is averaging 13.5 points, 2.7 assists and 1.3 turnovers per game.

  • In eight of 11 games, Jones has made one or fewer 3-point shots. In those eight games, he averaged 29.2 percent from beyond the arc (7-24). In the other three games Jones, he was good on 10-of-18 from distance (55.6 percent). Coincidentally (or not), the three games Jones was successful on more than one 3-point attempt came in consecutive contests played between November 24 and December 4 (North Carolina, Southern Miss, and Missouri-Kansas City).
  • In the three games since UofL's contest versus Missouri-Kansas City (the last time Jones made more than one 3-pointer), he connected on only 3-of-11 from long-range (27.3 percent).
  • Of Jones' total shots taken from the floor, 35.3 percent come from beyond the arc (42-119).
  • Jones is making 48.1 percent of his 2-point attempts on the year (37-77).
  • Another solid free throw shooter, Jones has been good on 74.2 percent of his shots from the line (23-31), as he averages 2.8 free throws per contest.
  • Although Jones averages 2.7 dimes per contest, he recorded 18 of his 30 assists on the season in three games (College of Charleston, Hofstra, and Florida International). In the remaining eight games, Jones averaged only 1.5 assists per contest.
  • In the month of December, Jones has made 5-of-16 treys (31.3 percent), 11-of-22 from inside the arc (50.0 percent), while averaging 10.5 points per contest.

Quick-hit Card analysis: Another streaky outside shooter, Jones will hunt shots from inside the arc if his 3-point attempts aren't falling. Like Smith, Jones offers the Kentucky perimeter defenders a legitimate quandary in how to guard him -- Tightly, and risk him driving for a mid-range jumper, or loosely, allowing him open looks from distance. Jones will be at a significant height disadvantage against UK's guards, and as with Smith, UK must guard with its legs, using its reach to limit passing lanes and force him sideways, instead of north and south. In guarding both Smith and Jones, UK's defensive rotation must be on time or risk fouling late in drives. In transition, Jones will aggressively attack, leaving the 'Cats with the responsibility of bellying-up before he penetrates too deeply inside the arc, where he is talented enough to create all types of problems for UK, both with his 2-point shot and passing ability. If Smith is leading the break, UK must be aware of Jones poised on the perimeter, as he awaits the 3-point dime.

Wayne Blackshear, 6-5 junior swing

Louisville's most accurate 3-point shooter, Blackshear is averaging 10.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game.

  • On the season, Blackshear is making 45.3 percent of his shots from distance (24-53).
  • In seven of 12 games this season, Blackshear made two-plus 3-pointers. In those seven contests, he connected on 20-of-36 from beyond the arc (55.6 percent). In the five games which Blackshear made fewer than two 3-point shots, he was 4-of-17 from long-range (23.5 percent).
  • Blackshear and Jones, the Cards' best 3-point shooters, have combined to make 41-of-95 3-point shots for the season (43.2 percent).
  • From inside the arc, Blackshear has made only 10-of-35 attempts (28.6 percent).
  • Fifty-three of the wing's 88 shots taken this season have been from outside the arc (60.2 percent).
  • Also the team's best free throw shooter, Blackshear has made 31-of-35 from the line (88.6 percent). He averages 2.9 free throws per game, but in five contests he failed to attempt a shot from the stripe.
  • On the season, Blackshear has seven assists and five turnovers.
  • In the month of December, Blackshear is averaging 11.6 points per contest in an average of 18.0 minutes per game. He has made 11-of-25 shots from distance (44.0 percent), and 3-of-14 from inside the arc (21.4 percent).

Quick-hit Card analysis: More of a perimeter threat than inside banger, Blackshear's game has grown by miles since he returned from shoulder surgery, which caused him to miss most of his freshman season. UK must take Blackshear out of his comfort zone by being physical (or at least as physical as the officials will allow under the points of emphasis regarding perimeter contact), forcing him into passing the ball or driving, instead of allowing him to square up for the 3-pointer. Clearly, Blackshear doesn't relish contact and will generally not respond well to physical play. But let him get into a shooting rhythm, and he will flat-out make the 'Cats pay. Ball denying the Cards is very difficult because of the myriad picks set in their half-court offense, but keeping the ball out of Blackshear's hands -- perhaps with a chaser -- will go a long way in ensuring UK ups its record to 5-1 in the last six games against Louisville.

Montrezl Harrell, 6-8 sophomore forward

The lion-hearted Harrell, the Cards' top inside performer, is averaging 12.5 points and a team-leading 8.3 rebounds per game.

  • On the year, Harrell is making 63.9 percent of his shots from the floor (62-97). Not a 3-point threat, Harrell is 1-of-1 from distance on the season.
  • Over the last six games, Harrell is averaging 6.8 rebounds, after pulling down 9.8 boards per contest through Louisville's first six contests.
  • From the free throw line, Harrell has connected on only 25-of-47 attempts (53.2 percent), and averages 3.9 charity stripe tosses per game.
  • On the year, Harrell has recorded 13 assists and 15 turnovers.
  • In his five games in the month of December, Harrell has made 27-of-38 shots from the floor (71.1 percent), while grabbing 32 rebounds (6.4 per game).

Quick-hit Card analysis: If the youthful Wildcats are in need of a lesson in how to play with heart, focus, and intensity, they are about to receive a senior-level course in playing hard all the time, courtesy of the hard-charging Harrell. He will use his athleticism, which he has in spades, and singular effort to battle the bigger 'Cats on the boards. Kentucky must -- if it is to dominate the paint battle on both ends of the floor -- outwork Harrell for the ball on defense, and on the offensive boards. Offensively, the 'Cats should go right at him, looking to get UofL's best player in the paint into foul trouble.

Harrell will score in a variety of ways, whether it be put backs, mid-range jumpers, or free throws. The key to limiting his touches is to simply beat him to the ball, a very real challenge facing the 'Cats on Saturday afternoon.

Mangok Mathiang, 6-10 redshirt freshman center/forward

A starter in Louisville's last six games, Mathiang is averaging 5.0 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

  • Mathiang first name is pronounced Mango.
  • Averaging 17.5 minutes per game on the season, since earning the starting nod, Mathiang is playing 21.3 minutes per contest.
  • He has only one double-digit scoring game, against the WKU Hilltoppers when he recorded 13 points in the Louisville win.
  • Mathiang is averaging 6.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in his six starts (3.3 offensive boards). On the year, he is averaging 1.3 blocks per game, but in his six starts he swatted an average of 2.2 shots per game.
  • On the season, the IMG Academy-product is making 58.8 percent of his shots from the floor (20-34).
  • Mathiang has committed only six turnovers for the year.
  • Not a strong free throw shooter, Mathiang has made 20-of-37 shots from the stripe on the year (54.1 percent), and attempts 3.1 free throws per game .

Quick-hit Card analysis: UK's counterpart down low, Cauley-Stein, must use his slight quickness advantage and great positioning to keep Mathiang off the boards and out of the scoring column. Kentucky may also use the high pick-and-roll to pull Mathiang away from the basket, opening up the low block for Randle and Poythress.

Chane Behanan, 6-6 junior forward

The Bowling Green High-product is averaging 8.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

  • From the field, Behanan is making 67.3 percent of his shots (35-52), in an average of 18.5 minutes per game.
  • He has recorded no more than 13 points in any game this season.
  • Behanan has two double-digit rebound games to his credit this season (Cornell, Missouri-Kansas City).
  • He is averaging 3.1 offensive rebounds per game, but has only eight rebounds of the offensive variety in his last four contests (2.0 per game).
  • Behanan has struggled from the line this season, connecting on only 21-of-47 free throw tries (44.7 percent).
  • In the month of December, Behanan is averaging 9.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, while making 19-of-25 shots from the floor (76.0 percent).

Quick-hit Card analysis: A bruiser on the block, Behanan has shooting range out to about 15 feet. He has good enough handles to drive from the elbow in traffic, and either pull up for a short jumper or take the ball to the rim. Physically gifted, Behanan can become frustrated if facing pressure defense, but the pressure has to have help because of his ability to put the ball on the floor.

Luke Hancock, 6-6 senior forward

In an average of 17.2 minutes per game, Hancock is putting up 7.8 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game.

  • Of Hancocks 61 shot attempts from the field this season, 40 have come from beyond the arc (65.6 percent). On the season, Hancock has connected on only 10 of those 40 attempts from distance (25.0 percent).
  • He has only three games this year with more than one made 3-pointer (Hofstra, Hartford, Missouri-Kansas City). In those three tilts, Hancock made 6-of-17 trey tries (35.3 percent). In the other eight contests, he made only 4-of-23 from long-range (17.4 percent).
  • He has, though, recorded four games of plus-50.0 percent outside shooting. In those four games, Hancock combined to make 6-of-11shots from range (54.5 percent). In the other seven games, he made only 4-of-29 from beyond the arc (13.8 percent), perhaps telling Hancock that less is more.
  • Hancock is 10-of-21 from inside the arc on the year (47.6 percent).
  • In the month of December, Hancock has made 4-of-17 from distance (23.5 percent), and is averaging 6.8 points per game.

Quick-hit Card analysis: Closing on Hancock is vitally important. Louisville will run him through all manner of picks to get him open looks, so defensive recovery and quick switches are keys for UK not allowing Hancock to find his 3-point rhythm.

Terry Rozier, 6-1 freshman guard

The Cleveland-native is averaging 5.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 17.4 minutes of action per game.

  • Rozier has made 11-of-33 from beyond the arc this season (33.3 percent).
  • He has only two games with two or more made shots from distance (Southern Miss, Florida International). In those two games, Rozier made 5-of-8 3s (62.5 percent). In the other 10 games, Rozier made 6-of-25 from long-range (24.0 percent).
  • Rozier has been true on 14-of-36 tries from inside the arc (38.9 percent). He is making 36.2 percent of his overall shots from the floor (25-69)
  • Of his 69 total shots taken, 47.8 percent come from distance (33-69).
  • Rozier has been to the line only 13 times, making eight (61.5 percent).
  • Rozier has an outstanding assist/turnover ratio of 7.7 -- He has 23 assists (1.9 per game), and only three turnovers on the season.
  • In the month of December, Rozier has made 5-of-19 attempts from beyond the arc (26.3 percent), and 15-of-35 shots from the floor (42.9 percent), while averaging 8.0 points per contest.

Quick-hit Card analysis: Extremely quick, Rozier is capable of creating problems on the perimeter for UK with both his shot and ability to drive the basketball on the strength of his lightening fast first step. A great decision-maker with the ball, Rozier is keen to draw the defense and pass to the open shooter.

Stephan Van Treese, 6-9 senior forward

Van Treese, who started the first six games of the year before giving way to Mathiang, is averaging 3.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

  • In his six starts, Van Treese averaged 22.0 minutes per game; since losing his starting spot he is playing an average of 12.7 minutes. In his non-starts, Van Treese is averaging 2.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per contest.
  • On the season, he has made 16-of-23 field goals (69.6 percent), but Van Treese is attempting only 1.8 shots per game when not starting.
  • He is 5-of-7 from the free throw line on the season (71.4 percent).
  • Van Treese has scored in double-digits only once on the season, scoring 10 points against Cornell on November 15.

Quick-hit Card analysis: Not the greatest defensive player on the floor, UK would be smart to go right at Van Treese when he is in the game.

Tim Henderson, 6-2 senior guard

The Louisville Christian Academy-product is averaging 2.1 points per game.

  • Henderson, who nailed two 3-pointers in the span of 42 seconds in last year's national semifinal contest against Wichita State, has made 7-of-17 treys on the year (41.2 percent).
  • The walk-on has played 65 minutes this season in 11 games (5.9 minutes per game).
  • Seventeen of his 18 shots from the floor have been 3-point attempts (94.4 percent).

Quick-hit Card analysis: Henderson is a shooter, pure and simple. W hen he enters the game, the 'Cats must take notice and ball deny the pass to the perimeter. When shooting, he likes the wings to the corners.

Kevin Ware, 6-2 junior guard

Coming back from a horrific leg injury in last year's NCAA Tournament, Ware is averaging 1.7 points per game.

  • Ware has played 53 minutes in nine games this season (5.9 minutes per game).
  • Ware did not play in UofL's last game against Florida International.
  • On the season, he has made 6-of-16 shots from the field (37.5 percent).
  • Ware scored a season-high five points against Cornell.
  • In six minutes of play versus North Carolina, Ware committed two turnovers.

Quick-hit Card analysis: Kentucky will hold a distinct perimeter advantage if Ware plays many minutes.

Anton Gill, 6-4 freshman guard

Gill, whose father scored 1,485 points at East Carolina, making him the No. 5 scorer in Pirates' history, is averaging 1.9 points per game.

  • Gill has played in 11 games for the Cards and averages 5.4 minutes per contest.
  • He has made 3-of-12 shots from distance on the season (25.0 percent), and 7-of-17 overall shots (41.2 percent).
  • Gill has recorded two assists and two turnovers on the year.

Quick-hit Card analysis: Gill, if he gets into the lane, is talented enough to hurt UK, but he has been almost purely an outside shooter in his freshman year. As with all of Louisville's shooters, Gill's shot must be respected.

Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!