Ever since the revival of the Kentucky/Louisville men’s basketball game in 1983 — the Dream Game” as it was called at the time — many of the games in this rivalry have been tossups.
This years edition will be no different. It’s another toss up, and it’s a win both teams badly need.
When the Cats and Cards tip off Friday at Rupp Arena, there are many different story lines at play. Some good, others not so good.
So with that in mind, let’s examine three reasons why UK beats Louisville, and two reasons why they won’t.
We will start with the three reasons why UK defeats Louisville.
Reason 1: It’s at Rupp Arena
I know what you’re thinking; it’s a homecourt advantage anytime the Cats play at The Place That Adolph Built. It usually is.
But this UK/UL matchup has a different feel for the simple fact the Cards come to Rupp with a rookie head coach in David Padgett due to well, um, you know, some different situations that have happened at Louisville.
It’s one thing to be a new head coach, it’s a whole different situation when you have 24,000 screaming Cat fans all over you, all around you, and all against you. Here’s thinking the lights may be a little too bright and the noise a little too loud for Padgett and the Cards.
Reason 2: The Cats have something to prove
After a disappointing loss to UCLA in the Big Easy, Kentucky finds itself in a position they’re not used to; proving itself. In most years, even with a team made up of only freshmen usually, this time of the year the Cats look ready to finish up its non-conference schedule with a hard fought victory versus their in-state rival.
Usually the Cats use this game to springboard into their SEC schedule. Those opportunities are there — UK faces SEC for Georgia Sunday evening. But those opportunities come with a caveat- Kentucky has something to prove.
They have something to prove to themselves, their coaches, BBN, and the nation. A solid showing leading to a win quiets some critics and provides the lift this team needs going into their conference play. A loss or a poor showing and the critics become louder, both within and without.
Reason 3 why they win- John Calipari. Again, I get it. People love to put Coach Cal on blast- “oh he’s a great recruiter, but he’s not a good x and o coach.”
I’m a little tired of it.
You don’t do the things that Cal has done on the floor and with programs at UMass, Memphis, and Kentucky if you don’t know how to coach on the floor. Not possible.
No coach can make 100% of everybody happy. Cal is a winner. That’s been proven over and over. He and his coaching staff know what they are doing. They’re seasoned, they’re talented, and they are proven.
Ask a Card fan if they would be more confident if they had the former head coach and staff on the sidelines for this game at Rupp. I think I know and you know that answer.
Now, let’s examine two reasons why the Cats lose to the Cards.
Reason 1: Too inconsistent
To put it bluntly, the Cats have been wildly inconsistent on both ends of the floor. But the place they worry me the most is the defensive end. A wise coach told me when I was a youngster in the game that defense and rebounding travel. If that’s the case, the Cats sometime forget those two bags at Wildcat Coal Lodge.
The bottom line is simple; if you don’t defend and rebound well, you don’t win big games. Louisville is another big game on the schedule. The Cats shouldn’t be green freshmen and sophomores now. A third of the season is over. It’s time to see consistency from Big Blue. Another inconsistent performance could spell defeat. The Cats need this win. Badly.
Reason 2: The Cats don’t compete for 40 minutes
As much as I want to say “Hey they are freshmen and sophomores, there will be times of inconsistency,” I sometimes wonder how bad to the Cats want to compete. In many instances throughout the year, the Cats have flashes of top 5 performances.
But they also have maddening stretches of very marginal effort. UK sometimes seem to put it on cruise control before the game has been decided. To reach the levels of success that most UK fans and national followers of hoops are used to, the Cats are going to have to compete from the tip to the final horn.
Granted, most tough matchups have instances where things don’t go right: Cold shooting, foul trouble, or the opponents play well. There’s going to be good points of play for the Cats.
The question is will the Cats play as hard and with elite-level effort when things go wrong, and things always go wrong in a basketball game no matter the level.
Here’s hoping the Cats play for 40 minutes.
So there you have it. Three reasons why UK wins and two reasons why they don’t. These questions, and many others, will be answered Friday in the LEX.