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Top five storylines entering men's soccer's trip to No. 10 IU

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UK travels to play No. 10 Indiana after playing its best match of the season against Tulsa last Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK travels to play No. 10 Indiana after playing its best match of the season against Tulsa last Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Tomorrow, Cat Scratches will be traveling with the men's soccer team for the Wildcats' game against the No. 10 Indiana Hoosiers (8-3-2) in Bloomington, Ind.  Brent Ingram and I will have a live blog of the action beginning a few minutes before Wednesday's 7 p.m. ET kickoff.  IU is arguably the most tradition-rich soccer school in the nation, so seeing their facilities, team and fan support should be very interesting.

The match is UK's final non-conference affair of the season, so it won't affect UK's late-season run at making the Conference USA Tournament. However, a win would significantly strengthen the Cats' NCAA Tournament resume and would build confidence entering UK's crucial three-match C-USA stretch to close the regular season.

Here are five storylines to watch entering Wednesday's game:

1. UK looking to sustain offensive momentum - UK started the season on an offensive tear and were ranked second in the nation in goals scored for much of the early portion of 2011. However, the Cats went through a three-match stretch that saw them struggle mightily to put the ball in the goal. After scoring a goal in the 14th minute against UCF, UK did not score the rest of that match or the following two against Florida International and Marshall. The Cats lost all three matches and didn't score for the first 36 minutes of their next match against UAB.

Since that 331-minute scoreless streak, the UK offense has returned to form and then some. Ian Collins' team scored two goals in the final 24 minutes against UAB and posted three in the following match against Tulsa. Having scored five goals in just over 114 minutes, UK will be looking to keep its offense going.

UK will be tested by a stingy IU defense that has allowed just 0.85 goals per game, including six shutouts. The Hoosiers have outscored its opponents 24-11 on the year, but have only narrowly outshot their opponents. IU has just a 66-65 edge in shots on goal for the season, but goalkeeper Luis Soffner has saved 82.5-percent of the shots that have come his way.

What that tells me is UK's dynamic offense led by Matt Lodge and Tyler Riggs should be able to create chances. The question will be whether they are quality chances and whether they can beat the 6-foot-4 Soffner in goal.

2. Cats well rested - A major reason for UK's offensive struggles of a couple weeks ago was the brutal schedule the team had played. Over 23 days, UK played eight games spread across California, South Carolina, Nebraska, Kentucky and Florida. By the end of it, the Cats couldn't help but lose a step. Once they were finally able to settle in at home for a few days, the offense returned.

Now, for the first time since the season started in August, UK will have had an entire week without a game when the match kicks off tomorrow. Bloomington is a relatively quick drive from Lexington, so UK should be rested and ready on Wednesday, especially since Collins has mandated the team take some time off from training over the last week. IU is a quality opponent and makes for a difficult game, but the fact the Cats are well rested means they will be able to give it their best shot.

3. Weather to be a factor - Looking up the forecast tomorrow, the Cats and Hoosiers will be playing in conditions bordering on frigid. The temperature will be in the mid-40's with the wind chill barely climbing out of the 30's. There is a 70-percent chance of rain and the wind will be whipping at close to 20 miles an hour. The weather will make ball control difficult, but will also create opportunities for the offense. Defenders trying to react to the ball could have trouble getting their feet and it won't be easy for keepers to hold on to saves.

4. IU boasts tough home field - UK already dealt with one of the nation's best home environments this season in a trip to Creighton, but Bill Armstrong Stadium, IU's home, is an extremely tough place to play as well. In five home games this season, an average of over 2,800 fans has packed the venue. However, two of the Hoosiers' three losses this season have come at home so it can be done.

5. UK needs top defensive form
- UK's three-goal output against Tulsa last week was certainly good to see, but it was the Wildcats' defensive performance that caused Collins to call the game the Cats' best performance of the season. Goalkeeper Tyler Beadle made four saves and only a disputed penalty call in the 87th minute ruined his clean sheet.

Dylan Asher's return from injury has gone a long way in steadying the UK defense and the team effort the Cats turned in last Wednesday will need to be duplicated.


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