Hal Morris, the assistant sports editor at the Advocate-Messenger, is a lifelong Louisville fan. He still has his T-shirt from the original “Dream Game” between Kentucky and Louisville from 1983, but notes that he has sadly outgrown it in the last 29 years.
Morris grew up in Louisville, but also lived in Cynthiana, home of former UK coach Joe B. Hall. But that did not sway his allegiance to his Cardinals.
David Brock grew up rooting for Kentucky and likes to voice his disdain for that school to the west of Lexington when he can. If Kentucky loses, Brock has vowed to congratulate Hal before beginning an angry hibernation for several months in an undisclosed location where he won’t have to hear about the game. That location may or may not be in the vicinity of Antarctica.
So Saturday’s annual bragging rights game isn’t just important for the standpoint of having your team win its biggest game. It’s a chance to rub your friends’ noses in it for a whole season and to avoid having it done to you.
The two die-hard fans shared their thoughts on the the game, and who will win:
1. Who will be the best player on the court when Kentucky and Louisville play?
Morris: The obvious answer may be Russ Smith, who is having an All-American-caliber season. But the best player will be Peyton Siva. The senior is playing smart and playing with confidence. And there is no one on Kentucky’s team who can hang with him in the backcourt, he’s just to polished for the out of control Archie Goodwin or the mentally fragile Ryan Harrow.
Siva began playing like the McDonald’s All-American he was coming out of high school at the end of last season, and is in full control of his game right now. He can control a game without scoring much, which is what a true point guard does. And if his jumper is falling, he already made more 3-pointers this season than he had all of last year, he will dominate the game.
Brock: Based on potential, UK has candidates 1-4, but I know we are discussing the here and now. It will still be Nerlens Noel, with Alex Poythress a surprise second.
There is a saying that goes, roughly, "potential gets coaches fired," but when you've got John Calipari on the bench, it is more likely to be the other coach.
Those who lament Calipari creating a finishing school for pampered basketball prodigies overlook the fact the elite players he brings in are typically extremely coachable. From all accounts, Noel doesn't need to be prodded to play like his flat top is on fire and has shown he can impact the game from almost anywhere on the court.
While we more or less know what Louisville brings to the table (bad Rick Pitino-Karen Sypher joke deleted), Poythress, Goodwin and even Kyle Wiltjer could have statement games out of nowhere. I seem to recall Card fans being extremely confident a couple years ago until Josh Harrellson wiped his feet all over the new carpet and raided the fridge during the Yum! Center's grand opening.
Incidentally, UofL’s emblematic angry bird and the refrigerators of their country-fried corporate benefactors are full of potential as well. Potential to spread avian flu. Be leary of any buffets and bring plenty of hand sanitizer Wildcats.
2. What will be the three biggest keys to the game?
Morris: 1. Louisville has to overcome the mental block of not beating Kentucky since John Calipari has been in town. Louisville has the better team, but they have to believe that and I think they do. Plus, Pitino would do just about anything to get this win. Both coaches may play it off as just another game, and with UK struggling this year, it may be. But to Louisville, this is the most important game the Cardinals will play all year.
2. The Cardinals have to keep generating turnovers like they have all season. And against a backcourt which is, face it, nowhere near as good as they have had in the past, that is going to be the key to the game. Siva and Russ Smith have been terrorizing backcourts all year and Kentucky’s won’t be anywhere near the best one they’ve faced.
3. The Louisville frontcourt of Chane Behanan, Montrez Harrell and the reserves have to control the glass. Nerlens Noel, whose offensive game is not good at best, is a force on defense and can rebound. But the Cardinals are stronger, much stronger, and have to show that strength and outrebound and frankly beat up the weaker Wildcats. Alex Poythress does not play with much passion, and if he dies not this game, Behanan will eat him alive. Louisville is deeper and better across the front lines and have to show it Saturday.
Brock: Unfortunately for this year's UK team — and my own selfish purposes — this may be the purest distillation of Pitino's frenetic defensive strategy since he was at Kentucky. It is highly effective and, as I recall, goes something like this: foul so much the refs give up calling fouls.
I know they use diverse looks on defense, but the idea is still to make the other team wilt amidst a hacking blur of elbows. In the eye of that maelstrom, the refs develop a kind of visual numbness, where a closed-fist punch looks the same as a love tap.