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UK-U of L: Breaking down the matchups

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Andrew Harrison had 18 points in UK's win over Louisville on Dec. 28. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Andrew Harrison had 18 points in UK's win over Louisville on Dec. 28. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS -- Kentucky-Louisville. No matter who's wearing the uniforms, those two words capture the Commonwealth's attention.

But on Friday at 9:45 p.m., it will be the players and coaches who decide the outcome. Here are some of the matchups that will determine bragging rights.

1. Andrew and Aaron Harrison vs. Russ Smith and Chris Jones

You won't find two backcourts that contrast much more than these two do.

On the Louisville side you have two lightning-quick water bugs in Russ Smith and Chris Jones, neither measuring taller than 6-foot or weighing more than 175 pounds. Both can score in bunches and shoot at least 38 percent from 3. They are also defensive pests, ranking fifth and 29th nationally in steal percentage, respectively.

Kentucky, meanwhile, has two big, physical guards in Andrew and Aaron Harrison. The two twins, especially late in the season, use their 6-6 frames to outmuscle opponents and get to the free-throw line.

Of the four, Jones (18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, two turnovers) was most efficient in the first UK-U of L matchup back on Dec. 28 at Rupp Arena. Smith had an off day, needing 20 shots to score 19 points while committing four turnovers. Aaron Harrison was also relatively quiet, scoring 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting with four turnovers and just one assist.

Though he shot just 6 of 16 and 6 of 12 at the line, Andrew Harrison played an important role in UK's 73-66 win. Serving as the primary ball handler for 34 minutes against relentless U of L pressure, Andrew Harrison committed just three turnovers and helped limit the Wildcats to just 11 turnovers as a team.

The twins, however, are different players than three months ago. Andrew Harrison has benefitted from a much-ballyhooed late-season tweak and evolved into a floor general for his team. Aaron Harrison, meanwhile, is operating at peak efficiency. In five postseason games, he is averaging 17.8 points on 50.8 percent shooting, including 48.4 percent from 3-point range.

Smith and Jones -- as well as freshman sparkplug Terry Rozier -- will present a different kind of challenge entirely. Will the Harrisons use their size to overwhelm the smaller counterparts? Or will Louisville's guards use their quickness to flummox the twins on both ends?

2. Julius Randle vs. Montrezl Harrell

As a treat for impartial viewers, the two best NBA prospects who will be on the floor in Lucas Oil Stadium happen to play the same position. UK's Julius Randle (6-9, 250) and U of L's Montrezl Harrell (6-8, 235) are close in size, motor and athleticism, which makes the idea of the two power forwards guarding one another for the better part of 40 minutes quite intriguing.

Statistically speaking, Randle has the edge as a rebounder, ranking in the top 50 nationally in both offensive- and defensive-rebounding rate. Harrell, meanwhile, is a stronger defender on paper, coming close to doubling Randle in both steal and block rate. Offensively, Randle bears a heavier load. He is called on to create his shot much more frequently, while Harrell thrives as a finisher in shooting 60.5 percent from the field.

The first time around, we were largely deprived of watching Randle and Harrell do battle. Randle was limited to just four minutes in the second half by leg cramps after a dominant 17-point first half, while Harrell played just six minutes in the first half due to foul trouble and finished with an uncharacteristic six points and four rebounds.

Since then, Randle's cramping issues have disappeared and Harrell has become one of the best big men in the country. For those reasons and, Randle-Harrell II will be very much worth watching.

3. James Young vs. Luke Hancock

Luke Hancock, after earning Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors a year ago, hasn't had the senior season many expected because of an offseason injury, averaging 12.1 points and shooting 33.9 percent from 3-point range. But once again, he's been a force in the NCAA Tournament. Hancock has scored 37 points combined in two U of L wins during March Madness, including two huge 3-pointers as the Cardinals survived a round-of-64 upset bid by Manhattan.

Young, on the other hand, has been quiet during the tournament. He hit some big shots in the upset of Wichita State, but he's averaging just 10 points per game and shooting 8 of 22 from the field.

These two, who each play the lion's share of minutes at the 3 position for their teams, are known first as scorers and it's certainly possible one or both could swing the Sweet 16 showdown with a scoring outburst. However, look no further than the regular-season matchup for proof that the impact they make in other areas could be just as meaningful.

Young had one of his only two double-doubles against Louisville, grabbing 10 rebounds to go with his 18 points. He also had just two turnovers in serving as a secondary ball handler, an important role against the Cardinal defense.

Using his athletic advantage, Young significantly outplayed Hancock on Dec. 28. If he can duplicate that effort against the clutch seniors, it bodes very well for the Cats.

4. X-factors

It's easy to get caught up in matching up starters vs. starters when looking at UK-U of L, but John Calipari and Rick Pitino both manage their rotations well to create favorable scenarios for their teams. Here are a few examples:

Dakari Johnson -- Back in December, the big center was largely an afterthought. He played just eight minutes against U of L, missing his only shot. Now, he's a key presence as a rebounder, energy guy and scorer inside. Against an already outsized Cardinal team, he could make a big difference. Coach Cal has also turned to a twin-tower lineup with Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein much more frequently in the postseason, which be trouble for the Cards.

Wayne Blackshear -- More and more as the season has worn on, especially without the departed Chane Behanan, Pitino has turned to Wayne Blackshear at the 4 position. Three of U of L's four most-used lineups over the last five games, according to, feature Blackshear in the frontcourt, including the Smith-Jones-Hancock-Blackshear-Harrell grouping that has been Pitino's second favorite in the postseason. Playing a 6-5, 230-pounder inside creates advantages with Blackshear's skill and athleticism, but also challenges. Accordingly, UK will need to be ready.

Alex Poythress --
Poythress has become a versatile weapon for Coach Cal. Moving freely between the two forward positions, he can guard at least three positions and terrorize opponents on the offensive glass. Considering the smaller lineups U of L could use, he could be very valuable. Also, don't forget UK outscored Louisville by 20 points in the first matchup with Poythress on the floor. You can be sure Calipari won't.

To bring you more expansive coverage, and Cat Scratches will be joining forces for the postseason. You can read the same great stories you are accustomed to from both sites at and, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

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