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Andrew Harrison and James Young celebrate UK's 74-69 win over Louisville in the Sweet 16. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Andrew Harrison and James Young celebrate UK's 74-69 win over Louisville in the Sweet 16. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS - To hear Andrew Harrison tell it, the Kentucky Wildcats were comfortable when they were down 13 and without Willie Cauley-Stein, who was lost for the rest of the game with a left ankle injury.

They were comfortable when Luke Hancock hit back-to-back 3-pointers, James Young fouled out and momentum was swinging in Louisville's favor. They were comfortable down seven to the defending national champions with 4:33 left in the game.

Comfortable? Are you kidding?

Believe it, because these Kentucky Wildcats continue to do the unbelievable in the postseason.

Left for dead like they were so many times this season, the Cats (27-10) jolted back to life late in Friday's Sweet 16 matchup and somehow knocked off their archrivals with a shocking, almost impossible-to-fathom 74-69 victory over the Cardinals (31-6) at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

"Told them before the game, you'll get punched in the mouth and you're going to taste blood," John Calipari said. "You're going to fight or brace yourself for the next shot. They fought. They never stopped playing."

Even when the late-season turnaround seemed to finally be coming to an end.

"As much stuff as we've been through all year, it's nothing we haven't seen," Andrew Harrison said.

This was just the latest magic trick in a season that seemed destined for failure as recently as three weeks ago.

Trailing 66-59 with 4:33 remaining, the Cats, who had seemingly hung around all game without ever getting over the hump, went on a 15-3 run to close out the game. When Russ Smith missed a 3-pointer with just four seconds to go and Aaron Harrison followed with two game-clinching free throws, UK was headed back to the Elite Eight for the fourth time in five seasons under Coach Cal.

As the Cats jumped jubilantly at midcourt for the second straight game, one thing was crystal clear: The disappointment of the regular season is now a thing of the past. For all the expectations UK didn't meet in the regular season, it has exceeded them in the postseason and rewritten how this team will be remembered.

"In a way I think we have (rewritten our history)," Julius Randle said. "We just kind of had to put the past behind us and leave it where it was. It's a new season, the postseason. That's all we can worry about, survive and advance, and we've gotta take it one game at a time."

The next game up will be a date with second-seeded Michigan on Sunday at 5:05 p.m. on CBS with a berth to the Final Four on the line.

As improbable as a trip back to Dallas appeared to be a month ago, UK is still in the hunt thanks to timely plays from Alex Poythress and steely resolve from the Harrison twins and Julius Randle.

Poythress, nothing short of a nonfactor for the first 35-plus minutes of the game, ignited the comeback when Andrew Harrison found him wide open on the baseline with a slick one-handed pass for a dunk.

On the very next possession, with Louisville's Smith looking to provide the dagger, Poythress seemingly came out of nowhere to block Smith's shot off the backboard. After Randle got UK within three on a jumper, Poythress manned up on Hancock, who had torched the Cats just minutes earlier, and forced a turnover.

"We were begging him the whole game to start playing and he played at the right time," Coach Cal said. "It was unbelievable how he finished."

After Randle missed a pair of shots inside, Poythress got the second offensive rebound in traffic, went back up against Montrezl Harrell and banked the shot in. The foul was the fourth on Harrell, U of L's best big man, and the ensuing free throw tied the game.

But he wasn't done yet.

After a turnover by Smith, Poythress got the ball again and knocked Harrell out of the game. He hit 1 of 2 free throws to give UK a 67-66 lead.

"He's the reason we won the game," Aaron Harrison said.

Aaron Harrison may have had a thing or two to do with it too.

Down by one after a Smith jumper, Calipari put the ball back in the hands of his best player, Randle, to deliver the knockout punch, and he delivered - with a pass.

Randle drove into the lane, spun into traffic and then kicked it out to Aaron Harrison in the corner. Like he has done so many times in the postseason, Aaron Harrison swished the 3, giving UK a 70-68 lead it would never relinquish.

"I was definitely looking to shoot but I saw Aaron just wide open in the corner," Randle said. "He's made that shot a million times. I didn't even really go to offensive rebound because I knew he was making it."

Said Calipari: "Three weeks ago he would have shot a hook to try to get that at the basket. Now, he's just playing the game as it comes. And that's what - they're playing for each other. They have finally surrendered and lost themselves in the team. It's just taken us a long time."

Wayne Blackshear missed 1 of 2 free throws with 14.2 seconds left, Randle sunk two more free throws to go back up by three and Smith missed a game-tying 3 in the closing seconds, sending a bunch of freshmen and sophomores who weren't supposed to have this type of resolve to the Elite Eight amid a week of unrelenting buildup and hype.

In the process, UK delivered Rick Pitino his first loss in 12 games in the Sweet 16 while improving Calipari's record to 6-1 vs. Louisville as Kentucky's head coach.

"It's just we got to keep fighting," Aaron Harrison said. "I think we've gotten that over the last three or four weeks. We've been down in the last couple of games and we knew we'd been through a lot this season and we knew we could get through anything if we got through what we did this season."

They even got through a devastating injury to their best defensive player, Cauley-Stein, who left the game with 13:05 left in the first half with an ankle injury. Calipari confirmed after the game that "it's not a good ankle injury," but that was obvious when Cauley-Stein limped back to the locker room with hardly any weight on his left foot.

UK could have folded, down 13 just seconds after the injury, but Dakari Johnson stepped up with a career-high-tying 15 points and six rebounds, Randle bullied his way to 15 points and 12 rebounds, and the Harrison twins combined for 29 points.

Kentucky shot just 43.6 percent overall and allowed U of L's three-headed monster of Smith, Harrell and Hancock to have their way offensively, but the Cardiac Cats, who don't seemed to be fazed by any type of adversity anymore after a roller-coaster regular season, never wilted.

They seem to like the taste of blood.

"This team has fought the whole year," Calipari said. "They're maturing right before our eyes."

To bring you more expansive coverage, CoachCal.com 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 CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

Baylor rematch the next step on UK Hoops' path

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Jennifer O'Neill scored a career-high 43 points in UK's four-overtime win over Baylor on Dec. 6. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics) Jennifer O'Neill scored a career-high 43 points in UK's four-overtime win over Baylor on Dec. 6. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
When the bracket was unveiled, the matchup immediately stood out.

Kentucky and Baylor, back in December, slugged it out to the tune of four overtimes with the Wildcats coming out on top in a game that appeared at times might never end.

And there the two teams were in the Notre Dame Regional, poised to meet again in the Sweet 16.

"The committee has really just a tough, tough job to do, but you just have to believe they have a sense of humor too," Matthew Mitchell said on the night the field was revealed.

Selection Monday, however, was a long time ago.

To make the rematch happen, the third-seeded Cats (26-8) would need to advance past Wright State and Syracuse in hosting first- and second-round games for the first time in school history.

For their part, the second-seeded Lady Bears (31-4) would have to beat Western Kentucky University and California at home.

As fate would have it, UK and Baylor would take care of business, setting the stage for a reprisal of that thriller in Arlington, Texas. On the line for the Cats at noon on Saturday will be their third Elite Eight trip in as many seasons and fourth in five years.

"It will be a real, real test for our team," Mitchell said. "Baylor has a fantastic team and they've had a great season and we know from firsthand experience how tough they are and so we'll just have to continue to try and prepare well."

In that first matchup, both teams had every opportunity to pack it in during UK's 133-130 win that set an NCAA record for most points in a game.

The Cats could have given in as Baylor's Odyssey Sims hit shot after shot and scored 47 points. The Lady Bears could have yielded as Jennifer O'Neill went off for a career-high 43 and certainly when Sims fouled out late in the first overtime period. Neither would, of course, and a classic ensued.

Nearly four months later, the Cats wouldn't mind another back-and-forth battle. Four overtimes though? That's a different story.

"Four overtimes, that's a whole other half," Bria Goss said. "It's a long season. We're not trying to do that again."

The length of the game isn't the only thing Mitchell would like to see change.

While viewers surely enjoyed the scoring and big shots of the first edition of UK-Baylor, Mitchell -- a coach with a sterling defensive reputation -- found himself trying to keep from covering his eyes when he broke out the film.

"When you go back and watch that game, it was a very exciting game to watch, but from a coaching standpoint, it wasn't fun to go back and watch the kind of defense we played," Mitchell said. "We just didn't have a very good defensive night at all."

Sims was the primary reason for that.

"She was terrific," Mitchell said.

Accordingly, Sims has come up often in practice this week.

"(Baylor) really gets the ball in Sims' hands a lot and she's just so explosive and so tough to guard," Mitchell said. "We really try to work hard on how we're going to defend her and then their overall offensive scheme and get as solid as we could. We did a lot of defensive work yesterday."

With a player like Sims, Mitchell said it is the responsibility of all five players on the floor to guard her. That's particularly true when it comes to drawing charges.

"We were able to get her out of the last game by drawing charges and I think you have to have the guts to stand in and take some hits from her because she's so aggressive going to the basket," Mitchell said. "She's really, really physical trying to get loose from denials and things like that so you have to stay strong and that call goes in your favor."

Four of Sims' five fouls against Kentucky were of the offensive variety.

But don't make the mistake of thinking Sims -- the nation's second-leading scorer at 28.5 points per game -- is a one-woman show. The Lady Bears proved otherwise the first time around.

"They have more than just her," Mitchell said. "They have a really good team with good players that made a lot of good plays in that game. One benefit of the game was you could really see their full complement of players because everybody had to get in that game because it was so long."

Much more is on the line this time though. Both teams have a goal of reaching the Final Four and this is the next step. In fact, Mitchell wants it to be the only step the Cats think about right now.

"Baylor will be a huge test, but what we tried to talk about (Wednesday) was getting our mind off the Final Four and getting our mind on Baylor because you can't go if you don't win Saturday," Mitchell said.

Andrew and Aaron Harrison speak to reporters at UK's pre-Sweet 16 press conference on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Andrew and Aaron Harrison speak to reporters at UK's pre-Sweet 16 press conference on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Story by Eric Lindsey and Guy Ramsey

INDIANAPOLIS - Even if his team was billed as the top team in the country to start the year, and even if there were beliefs that his team could go undefeated, don't tell John Calipari that his 10-loss group failed to meet expectations.

"It wasn't disappointing," Coach Cal said.

But he didn't mind people talking about the disappointment when his players were struggling because "that's what they had to hear."

"They had to hear how bad they were as players, how selfish they were," he said. "(People said), 'They're not together. This isn't a team. You can't do this. This is what's wrong.' They had to deal with that."

Calipari seemed to hint that the criticism brought his team together, and after hitting rock bottom against South Carolina, it appears to be true.

"Instead of separating, they stuck together," Calipari said. "They kept believing in one another. They kept believing in the staff and wanted answers, how do we get this right and accepts answers. So I'm proud of them."

Coach Cal said the adversity has made his team stronger and one of the most dangerous teams left in the tournament.

"I told them, 'Of any team that's still standing, there's no one that's gone through what you have to be strong enough and have enough character when adversity hits,' " Calipari said. "Because every one of us still playing, there's going to be adversity hitting these games. It's can you hold on to the rope? Can you continue to move forward even though the fluff looks a little bleak? And I think this team's been through enough that they can do that."

Randle looking forward to playing full game vs. U of L

The way the Kentucky Wildcats played without Julius Randle in the second half of the regular-season meeting with Louisville, Randle's teammates hardly noticed that he only played four minutes.

"I feel like once he went out, everybody else stepped up," Alex Poythress said. "That's just how it is on this team. If one guy goes down, the train keeps moving."

The train should have its locomotive for the full 40 minutes in Friday's Sweet 16 matchup with Louisville.

Since missing most of the second half in the Dec. 28 meeting with cramping in his legs, Randle hasn't had any more issues. Even before the U of L game Randle had problems, leaving the press conference in the Michigan State game with cramps.

"I hope that's behind me," Randle said.

If it is, it's because Randle has made a few lifestyle adjustments. He said he's eating better now, getting more rest and drinking more fluids.

"I haven't cramped up in a while," Randle said. "Knock on wood."

Randle scored 17 first-half points against the Cardinals in the first game before his legs gave out. His absence, coupled with Montrezl Harrell's first-half foul trouble, deprived fans of what should be a fantastic battle of the big men Friday.

"I don't know if it was a mismatch or anything," Randle said of his first-half success. "I was just kind of feeling it."

Randle said he's looking forward to playing a full game against U of L this time around.

"I hope so," Randle said. "God willing."

Harrisons key to limiting U of L transition game


Willie Cauley-Stein admits it: UK's transition defense has been far from perfect.

"That's kind of always been our little kryptonite throughout the season was transition defense," Cauley-Stein said.

Cauley-Stein says UK has improved, though Wichita State made the Cats pay for not getting back on numerous occasions in the Wildcats' memorable 78-76 win. Louisville will look to do the same on Friday night.

The Cardinals are more than capable, and it begins with Russ Smith and Chris Jones. The two small  guards turn defense -- U of L is second in the country in defensive turnover rate -- into offense as quickly as anyone in the country.

That means Andrew and Aaron Harrison will need to be ready for the challenge after they committed seven combined turnovers in their regular-season matchup with Louisville.

From what Smith has seen, he expects they will be.

"With the amount of minutes that they've played at the guard position, and in February they've become sophomores, January they've become sophomores, they're not freshmen anymore," Smith said. "They've improved on their decision-making, getting into the lane."

Last (fresh)men standing

UK's highly touted group of newcomers has been among a handful of freshmen to garner national headlines this season.

They began the season ranked No. 1, but were eventually surpassed by the likes of Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, Duke's Jabari Parker, and Syracuse's Tyler Ennis. When the Cats fell out of the polls altogether near the regular season's end, pundits were ready to label the group a flop.

A few weeks later, it's Julius Randle, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, and Dakari Johnson who are still playing.

"Seems like we stuck together during hard times and listening to Coach, I guess, and just brought us here this far and we're going to keep listening to him," Young said.

Of Rivals.com's top five players in the 2013 class, only Randle and Arizona's Aaron Gordon are still playing. Among Rivals.com's top 11, only Gordon and Florida's Chris Walker and Kasey Hill are still alive alongside UK's five freshman starters.

It's also worth noting that the other 15 teams that have advanced to the Sweet 16 start four freshmen combined, according to Cats Illustrated's Brett Dawson.  The four are Gordon, Virginia's London Perrantes, Michigan's Derrick Walton and Iowa State's Monte Morris.

Andrew Harrison's elbow better than it was


Andrew Harrison hardly showed it with his sparkling play against Wichita State, but that right elbow of his, which he injured two days earlier in the win over Kansas State, was barking the next day.

"Very sore," Andrew Harrison said. "I could barely move it."

Don't worry, Kentucky fans, Andrew Harrison will play Friday, and the freshman point guard sounds as if he will be much closer to 100 percent than he was against the Shockers.

"It's better," he said. "It's still a little sore but I'm icing it. It's fine."

Andrew Harrison said he will wear the arm sleeve over his elbow again, partly to protect his elbow and part for superstition.

"(The sleeve) has like a pad on it so if I do hit it again, it won't really affect me," he said.

To bring you more expansive coverage, CoachCal.com 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 CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

UK held an open practice at Lucas Oil Stadium on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK held an open practice at Lucas Oil Stadium on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS -- Going on three weeks now, John Calipari has turned his basketball practices into football workouts.

To adjust to his team's inability to finish through contact as officiating returned to its more relaxed, let-them-play emphasis, Coach Cal has brought out pads in practice, told his guys to make contact with their hands up and just play more physical.

With Louisville, arguably the most physical defensive team in the country, standing in Kentucky's way in the Sweet 16, Coach Cal ramped up intensity even more so this week.

"It's been as tough as any practice," Andrew Harrison said. "Coach has definitely been pushing us and he wants to make sure we're not satisfied."

Specifically, to prepare his team for U of L's pressure defense, he's told Jarrod Polson, Dominique Hawkins and EJ Floreal, who match up with the first-team guards in practice, to foul the starters.

"We have free reign to foul them as much as we can," Polson said. "There's no referees in practice so we're grabbing them, pushing them, pulling them."

The hope is, as Polson explained, is to prepare the Wildcats for Louisville's smothering defense, which ranks second in the country in steals with 10.1 per game.

"The hope is that if they can handle that when we're actually really fouling then they can handle that in the games when there's referees," Polson said.

How the game will be called will go a long way in determining just how aggressive Louisville can be with its defense. In the game in Lexington, 25 fouls were called on the Cardinals, neutralizing a bit of what they like to do defensively.

"They definitely have a defense that pressures the ball and tries to get up in you," Polson said. "I guess if they do call it tight that would be to our advantage."

John Calipari hinted on his weekly radio show Monday night that the officials are going to let the two teams play.

"Here's what the key is," Calipari said Monday. "Can you play through physical play? Can you get open? Can you catch balls? Can you drive when play is physical? At this point, critical."

If the game turns physical, Coach Cal said that's fine. He said his team has adapted and learned how to play grind-it-out games over the last month like it did against Kansas State, and when the situation calls for it, like it did against Wichita State, it can win a shootout.

In the first meeting with Louisville, Kentucky turned the ball over just 11 times, a surprising stat for a team that has struggled with them this season, especially against a defense like U of L's.

As a matter of fact, the Cardinals' minus-one turnover margin in the regular-season meeting was one of only two games this season in which Louisville has been on the wrong side of the turnover battle. The Cardinals lead the country in turnover margin at plus-6.8 per game.

But to a man, players in both locker rooms insisted these are two different teams from the ones that faced each other on Dec. 28 in Rupp Arena. And defensively, Louisville looks more like the Rick Pitino teams of old than the one that UK's guards, who were still finding their way at the time, had few problems against.

The Cardinals said it took time for their new additions to adjust to Pitino's defense, particularly the matchup zone.

"The more we play it the better we're getting at it," Luke Hancock said. "So guys are making their rotations when they're supposed to be getting in there, boxing out when they're supposed to be. Early on in the year you just don't make those rotations, especially with new guys coming into your defense because it's not the easiest thing in the world to pick up."

To bring you more expansive coverage, CoachCal.com 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 CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

UK will face Louisville in the Sweet 16 on Friday at 9:45 p.m. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK will face Louisville in the Sweet 16 on Friday at 9:45 p.m. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS -- In five years, John Calipari has left his mark on Kentucky fans.

He's helped them learn to "enjoy the ride," to maintain just a little bit more on an even keel through the ups and downs of a long season. He's shown them that putting players first can lead to the kind of program success expected at UK.

But try as he might, Coach Cal knows there's no changing the Big Blue Nation when it comes to Louisville.

"People grieve for a year after the game," Calipari said on the eve of a Sweet 16 matchup with the Cardinals. "People celebrate for a year after the game. I've tried to not make it bigger than it is. But it doesn't work."

It doesn't work because the rivalry is too ingrained. Just ask Jarrod Polson, who grew up a UK fan before going on to a four-year career playing for his favorite team.

"I was born to hate Louisville," Jarrod Polson said, only half joking.

Those are the feelings at play on both the blue and red sides of a Sweet 16 showdown between UK (26-10) and Louisville (31-5). On Friday at 9:45 p.m., bragging rights will be decided. Coach Cal knows better than to think he can control any of that, but it's another story with his team.

"We will not make this game bigger than it is," Calipari said. "It's an NCAA Tournament game. We've gotta play a basketball game against a really good team. Every team still standing is playing a really good team. So that's my message. Don't make it bigger than it is. Just play."

To that end, Coach Cal has given very specific directions to the Wildcats.

"Don't watch any TV," Calipari said. "Watch the History Channel, watch Biography, watch the Military Channel, watch movies and don't read anything, don't look at anything. It has no bearing on this game we're about to play."

That's not a difficult message to put into practice because, really, how could there be anything bigger than playing in the NCAA Tournament? No matter the opponent, there are only two options at this stage of the season: win or go home.

"I don't want to disrespect the rivalry or anything, but we're playing for something bigger than the rivalry," Willie Cauley-Stein told reporters in UK's locker room, television tuned to CNN.

Taking his turn after Kentucky's time with the media was up, Louisville star senior Russ Smith was asked about the way Cauley-Stein views the game. Though he has a couple years and a few extra games of UK-U of L experience on most of the Cats, he agrees.

"It is a rivalry game," Smith said. "There's no way around it. But at the end of the day they're right, it's much bigger than a rivalry. It's a Sweet 16 game. They would have to play with the same enthusiasm and wake up reading the same scouting report as if they were playing a UCLA in the Sweet 16 or UConn.  It's just the same game face.

"You just want to get to the next round. And that's what's most important. I feel the same way. I felt the same way the last two, three years, coming into this program, be prepared for every team the same way."

Count U of L head coach Rick Pitino -- a man intimately familiar with the rivalry -- in the same camp.

"I've been in the state 20 years, and the game to me has really only had difficult consequences for the loser twice," Pitino said. "Once was two years ago when they stopped our run in the Final Four, and the next game we play."

Polson is the only scholarship Wildcat who was in uniform for that national semifinal matchup. When he stepped into the Superdome in 2012, he remembers all thoughts about the rivalry -- long as he's been on the UK side of it -- going out the window.

"I mean, in that Final Four game, to me and our team, two years ago it didn't really seem like a rivalry at all," Polson said. "Once you get so far in the tournament there really is no rivalry games. It's just getting to the next round. That's how we saw it back then and I think that's how we're looking at it this year."

Three months ago, the Cats and Cards faced off when the rivalry was the biggest thing at play. Then, UK picked up its signature regular-season win in Rupp Arena, 73-66.

"Honestly, I don't even remember the first game, the first time we played them," Cauley-Stein said. "You know, the only thing I can really take from that is we fought for the whole 40 minutes of the game and that's what we have to do tomorrow, is just play like we played against Wichita (State), which we didn't even realize how close we were to winning or losing the game until the buzzer."

In defeating Louisville, the Cats played with the kind of 40-minute intensity that's become their hallmark in the postseason. With that, UK has improved by the day since the Southeastern Conference Tournament, making them a far different team than on Dec. 28.

"I think we just all settled down and just started thinking about having fun and it's still basketball," Aaron Harrison said, explaining UK's improvement. "We just go out there and have fun and fight for each other."

In a battle of Louisville's experience -- four starters played key roles on last year's title team -- and UK's youth, that carefree approach could work in the Cats' favor.

"The difference between freshmen is freshmen are going to play hard no matter what," Smith said. "That's what's so scary. Freshmen, regardless of how prepared they are, regardless of how trained they are, they're going to always be ready to play and they're always going to come play hard. They may not do the right things, but they're always going to be ready to play."

Differently comprised as UK and U of L may be, their goals -- and their approach to facing their archrival in the tournament -- are the same.

"The goal is to get to the Elite Eight," Smith said. "If you let the university or the other school that you're playing against get in the way of that it could potentially become a problem."

"We're playing to move on and that's the way we're coming into the game," Cauley-Stein said. "We're not thinking about, 'Oh it's Louisville so it's a must-win because it's Louisville. It's a must-win because we're trying to win a national championship."

To bring you more expansive coverage, CoachCal.com 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 CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

John Calipari will lead UK into a Sweet 16 matchup with Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari will lead UK into a Sweet 16 matchup with Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals on Friday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
INDIANAPOLIS -- To hear John Calipari and Rick Pitino tell their side of story, their relationship is the same as it ever was: They're friends.

Yes, friends.

That was Coach Cal's description of the relationship of the two coaches tasked with guiding the most heated rivalry in college basketball - sorry, Duke-North Carolina -- on Thursday prior to their teams' meeting in the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis.

"The stuff that they're at each others' throats, it's just not accurate," Calipari said.

Not only were they not lobbing grenades at each other Thursday, Calipari said they've bounced information off each other during this season.

"We were in touch throughout the year, back and forth," Coach Cal said. "He'd throw something at me, I'd throw something at him. Different things about our teams."

Take that for what's it's worth, but it's certain the two won't be sharing information this week.

When Kentucky-Louisville meet at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday, the "friendship" will cease to exist for the night. At stake will be the chance to advance to the Elite Eight. For the other coach, the losing one, the season will end.

So, to a degree, there is a rivalry between the two coaches. The nature of their jobs creates it.

Whether there is a genuine friendship, a behind-the-scenes dislike for one another or just mutual indifference, the two must compete on a regular basis for the crown of one of the most competitive basketball states in America.

It just so happens that in two of the last three seasons, the two Bluegrass titans have collided in the NCAA Tournament, only further intensifying the rivalry and spotlight on the relationship between the two coaches.

"You know, I think that hurts a little because you all (the media) bait and try to get certain answers out of us," Pitino said. "And if John says, 'I like a certain thing,' some people think he's taking a shot at me, vice versa. ... We understand what takes place between the lines. We understand the fans' intensity, but we don't personalize our battles. We understand what's it's all about."

Pitino said the two first met when Calipari was just a teenage camper at the Five-Star Basketball Camp. Since then, both of their careers have taken similar paths, crossing each other at turns along the way.

Both made meteoric rises at schools that had relatively little success before their arrivals (Calipari at UMass, Pitino at Providence), both coached at Kentucky, both left college to try their luck in the NBA (Coach Cal with the Nets, Pitino with the Celtics), and both have taken three different schools to the Final Four - coincidently (and ironically), the only coaches to do so.

During their brilliant careers, they've coached across from each other as heated competitors. Calipari's UMass team lost to Pitino's UK group in the 1996 Final Four after beating Cats earlier that season. Then the two wound up across from each other as Conference USA rivals when Pitino took the Louisville job and Calipari went to Memphis.

Now, they're the two biggest figures in the biggest rivalry in college basketball.

And so, on Thursday, knowing full well where the two came from and how intertwined their history and success has actually been, the two heaped praise at one another.

"I know that he's a great coach," Calipari said. "He's done it at different programs. His kids play with great energy and they play with confidence, and it's every year."

Was some of the praise an attempt to take the microscope off their relationship and, to a greater degree, the rivalry game on Friday? Maybe. But we'll never know.

And without knowing, all anyone can report is the two coaches had nothing but sunshine and roses for each other Thursday. Pitino went as far as to defend the "one-and-done" criticism Calipari gets blasted with so often for developing kids into NBA-ready prospects.

"He's one of the premier coaches in our game," Pitino said. "Has always been. The thing that I remember most about John, because I've known him since he was 15, is he always didn't have one-and-dones. He had a team at Massachusetts, and I knew where he took them from to today.

"He had the least amount of talent on the court when he went out there (and still won). And he didn't play an easy schedule. He had to take a lot of people on to get Massachusetts in the limelight. I've seen all stage of John's career, and so it doesn't surprise me that they're well at this time."

Perception is the two coaches are heated rivals whose friendship deteriorated long ago. The two say they remain friends.

"I don't care about perception because perception is not reality. We're friends," Pitino said. "We respect each others' programs very much and we're friends in the business. And I certainly have great respect for what they're accomplishing right now."

Whatever the case really is, they're both in each others' path to the Elite Eight.

"We're getting older, both of us, and I think I'm not on his mind and he's not on my mind, so to speak," Coach Cal said. "We all got tough jobs, what we're doing."

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 kenpom.com, 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, CoachCal.com 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 CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

Darius Miller scored 13 points in UK's Final Four victory over Louisville in 2012. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Darius Miller scored 13 points in UK's Final Four victory over Louisville in 2012. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Darius Miller remembers the epic buildup for the Kentucky-Louisville game in New Orleans two years ago with a bid to the national championship game on the line. He remembers the unprecedented hype and attention the game received, not only within the state but across the country.

Two years later, he's just glad he gets to watch the rivalry and enjoy it from a different point of view.

"I'm like a fan now so I get to sit back and watch and enjoy it," Miller said. "I know what (the players are) going through and I know they're having a good time. It's exciting. I'm just watching like everybody else now."

The anticipation for the 2012 Final Four game was unlike anything the rivalry had ever experienced, which is saying something for a series that spans all the way back to 1913, includes a number of classics and features the original Dream Game in 1983.

But given the stage in 2012 in the Final Four, the unquenchable thirst for a national championship of both teams at the time (UK hadn't won a title since 1998 and Louisville's drought went all the way back to 1986) and the backdrop (Kentucky was trying to the unthinkable and win with freshmen while U of L made a surprise run), the 2012 buildup was gargantuan.

It was a state divided like never before, and Miller can certainly remember the tension and anxiety when he was a part of the team that week despite everyone's best efforts to shield those distractions away.

"We were aware, especially with all the social media and stuff like that," Miller said. "On campus, it was a huge rivalry in the state, so people would come up to us on campus and ask us to win the game and tell us to have a great game and just be excited about the game. We really just tried to block all that out."

Believe it or not, Miller said they did.

"The main thing we had to focus on - everybody that was on the staff, that was on the team, the whole family that we built there - we just tried to keep it amongst each other and stay focused on the game and what we needed to do," Miller said.

As cliche as the "one game at a time" mentality can sound and as hard as it is to believe that the players actually shut out all the distractions in 2012, Miller said they were able to because that's what they had done all year.

With the type of season the Wildcats were having and the goals that were attainable for that group, hype had been built long before the kings of the Commonwealth met in New Orleans. Sure, the matchup in the Final Four only intensified things tenfold, but Miller said they were able to stay focused because they had fallen into the routine of taking everything one game at a time.

"Honestly, it was pretty much the same," Miller said. "That whole year we did a good job of just preparing for one game at a time and treating every game the same. By that time we had already built that mindset that every game was the same. We were going to treat it just like any other game."

Miller said the team took a "step back" on social media during the entire NCAA Tournament run to avoid any temptation, and he said John Calipari never even brought up the magnitude of the rivalry or what was at stake.

"He just treated it the same way he had all year," Miller said. "He never really approached any game differently. He was consistent throughout the whole year and I think that helped us to be the same and do it the same way."

The approach worked for Miller, who scored 13 points and hit a key 3-pointer near the five-minute mark to give UK a seven-point lead after a furious Cardinal run.

In that regard, Calipari will try to take the same approach with this year's team as it gets ready to meet Louisville in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons.

The buildup this time around doesn't feel the same as 2012, probably due in large part to the stage in the tournament (Sweet 16). But when one factors in the location of this year's game in Indianapolis and the proximity to both fan bases, not to mention the fact that the teams have won the last two national titles, don't think for a second that UK-Louisville in the NCAA Tournament isn't still an enormous deal.

"Anytime you play Louisville, it's a rivalry game, but when you're playing the tournament, take all that that you did in the regular season and everything you have in the rivalry and multiple that by 10 when you get to the tournament," former Wildcat Kenny "Sky" Walker said. "When you think it can't go up or the rivalry can't get any higher, I think that the last couple of years that we see it absolutely can."

If there is anyone who can identify with what Miller went through in 2012 and what the current UK players are going through now, it's Walker.

Walker was a freshman on the 1982-83 team that played in the original Dream Game in the 1983 NCAA Tournament. After going more than two decades without playing each other, the two rivals finally met in the NCAA Tournament in a game so hyped that only the 2012 one can rival it.

"I don't think anything, even if you grew up in Kentucky, could prepare for the hype because everybody had been anticipating that matchup for so long," Walker said.

Walker still paints a vivid picture of the Dream Game from his memories. He remembers a perfectly divided Stokely Center in Knoxville, Tenn., with fans dressed in blue on one side and fans in red on the other. He even remembers Kentucky's governor at the time, John Y. Brown, showing up to the game in a blazer that was half red, half blue.

"That kind of summed it for me that, yeah, this state is divided," Walker said.

Walker said they faced a similar buildup to that NCAA 1983 NCAA regional, but the hype was actually for a different team and a different rival: Indiana. Before they met Louisville in the regional finals, Walker's Wildcats had to get through the Hoosiers first.

Indiana had beaten UK in the regular season, so Walker said the focus that week was centered on getting revenge. Only once the Cats had beaten the Hoosiers did the attention - and the hype - turn to Louisville, and even then, only a day separated the two games.

"Not only were we fighting to beat Louisville, we were fighting to get to the Final Four," Walker said. "So you know, we had a lot of things we could accomplish and we were only 40 minutes away - actually, in the original Dream Game it was 45 minutes because it went into overtime. It was a great day until overtime."

UK lost the Dream Game 80-68 in overtime, but not because the anticipation or pressure got to the Cats' heads, Walker said. Like Calipari is trying to do with this year's team, Walker said his head coach at the time, Joe B. Hall, kept the team's attention focused only on what it could control.

"He's a disciple of Adolph Rupp," Walker said of Hall. "I remember him being very business-like during the week. Nothing really changed out of the ordinary, and even when the game happened he said, 'Guys, just go out, play the game like you would any other game. We're just going to go out here and win. We've got a game plan and we're going to go out and fight.' "

UK will try to do the same this week in Indianapolis, but Walker doesn't envy this year's group in that it has to put up with an entire week of buildup instead of the quick turnaround like he experienced for the Cardinals.

"Look, the coach can tell you whatever he wants," Walker said. "Don't read the paper, don't look at the news, don't watch sports - all that stuff. But when you're walking around campus, you go to the car wash, you go to the grocery store, you're out at the mall, whatever you do, you're constantly reminded of that game and how important it is to people and the fans."

Throw in today's modern age of social media, sensationalized media coverage, and the thirst to instantly and overly analyze everything and Walker said it's an entirely different buildup than the one he went through in 1983.

"I cannot imagine the compression and the microscope that these kids are under now with camera phones and pictures and Instagram and all that stuff," Walker said. "It's probably more demanding on them today than it was on us because there are so many distractions. You can't get away from them. So God bless them."

To bring you more expansive coverage, CoachCal.com 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 CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

Cal has another tweak for another big week

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John Calipari has coached UK to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in five seasons. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari has coached UK to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in five seasons. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Between the time Fred VanVleet's shot bounced off the rim, the backboard and onto the floor to the time John Calipari did his postgame press conference and finally got on the bus, Coach Cal's phone didn't stop buzzing.

When Calipari checked his phone, he said he had 100-plus text messages, more than half of them from friends telling him they had just watched the best college game they had ever seen. (There's no telling how many more voicemails he got.)

After reading about 30 of them, Calipari stopped, stood up on the bus and asked his players if they were getting the same thing. Unanimously, they said yes.

"I said, 'Did you, like, realize that when we were playing?' " Calipari recounted on his weekly radio show on Tuesday. "And they're like, 'No.' And the rest of us didn't either. We were just trying to play the game."

Time will ultimately decide just how good Sunday's game really was -- though there's little disputing that it was a classic and the best of this year's NCAA Tournament thus far - but the Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats (26-10) will have little time to revel in their best and most thrilling victory of the year.

With archrival Louisville (31-5) next in line on the hopeful journey to the Final Four, UK, believe it or not, has an even bigger stage to tackle.

"Wichita was probably playing as well anyone in the field," Calipari told radio show host Tom Leach. "Now, with us, who's left, who do you think I would tell you I would tell you is playing as anyone in the field?"

Rhetorically, the answer is Louisville.

"That's just the truth," Coach Cal said. "When you watch them, they're being aggressive, their physical play, the bump and grind of it, they're pressing, they're up in you. It's all the stuff that makes them aggressive, and they're playing well."

Louisville actually struggled in its two NCAA Tournament victories, coming back from a late deficit against Manhattan to avoid an opening-round upset before grinding out an ugly win against a strong St. Louis group.

But great teams pull out good wins even when they don't play well, and Louisville certainly fits the criteria of a great, if not elite, team.

The defending national champions have won seven in a row and 14 of their last 15. During that streak, which dates all the way back to Feb. 1, the Cardinals have won by an average margin of 22.9 points per game, including victories over NCAA Tournament teams UConn (once by 33 points and the other by 14 in the American Athletic Conference championship game) and Cincinnati.

UK won the regular-season meeting vs. Louisville, 73-66, at Rupp Arena, but both teams are far different than the ones that met on Dec. 28.

U of L no longer has Chane Behanan down low, who was dismissed from the team just days after the loss to UK, but Montrezl Harrell has stepped up his absence, transforming into one of the premier big men in the country. Luke Hancock was still coming back from an offseason injury during the team's first meeting and has just recently returned to his Final Four Most Outstanding Player form of a year ago, while Russ Smith has continued to score at a high rate.

Throw in the fact that the Cardinals have rounded their defense into their typically stifling postseason form - they lead the country in turnover margin thanks to 10.1 steals per game - and UK, just as anyone would expect, has its hands full with fourth-seeded Louisville.

"Do you really think you're not going to play against somebody who's not good (at this point)?" Calipari said Tuesday. "Every team's good."

UK is also significantly better.

Though the Wildcats won the first meeting behind James Young's 18 points and 10 rebounds and Andrew Harrison's solid point-guard play, they played nearly the entire second half without leading scorer and rebounder Julius Randle, who spent most of the final 20 minutes in the bowels of Rupp Arena receiving treatment for leg cramps.

Since then, UK has taken several lumps - seven more losses, to be exact - but the Cats have obviously turned things around in recent weeks, punctuated by Sunday's victory over the previous undefeated Wichita State Shockers.

"Why were we ready for all this adversity? Because we went through a gauntlet this year," Calipari said, noting UK's second-ranked strength of schedule. "As we struggled, oh, the onslaught of criticism, oh, the personal attacks, oh, the agendas came out. ... And these kids never broke up. They stayed together, they kept believing, they kept believing our staff. So which team in this tournament has been through that like us?"

Not many.

Calipari was able to turn things around in recent weeks by taking blame for his failure to coach his players in the way they needed to be guided. Once he realized he needed to change, he made the celebrated and unsolved "tweak" before the Southeastern Conference Tournament and then another tweak before NCAA Tournament play.

Now - you guessed it - there's one more tweak. Calipari's calling it the "three-tweak," and it's being made just in time for Louisville.

"All these have been based on us, but this one's also based a little bit about how that other team plays -- some things that they do that we're tweaking some of our stuff," Coach Cal said on the radio show. "Because you know what? You've got to keep people on their heels a little bit, and so we're going to go with the three-tweak and see what happens."

Calipari planned to institute the third tweak with his team on Tuesday night in the first practice since Sunday's game. The Cats will leave for Indianapolis on Wednesday and practice in the evening while they're there to get their bodies and minds acclimated to the approximate 9:45 p.m. start.

"What time do you think it will start?" Calipari said, hinting at the fact that the game will tip even later because of the preceding Michigan-Tennessee game. "I mean, we're going to be playing until 1 in the morning."

Practices will continue to be physical this week, Calipari said, because that's what's worked so well recently.

"We're going to stay with what we've been doing: physical practices," Calipari said. "Grab. Hold. Guy tries to get open, put two hands around his hip. The guy drives, put your hands up in the air and hip check him. That's what we've been doing. So we're doing it this week."

There's a notion that the pressure is now off UK and squarely on Louisville this week because of the disappointment the Cats endured in the regular season and the subsequent breakthrough against Wichita State. Coach Cal doesn't want his team to have that mindset of relief.

"Losing stinks," he said. "Like, really stinks."

So Calipari wants to win on Friday and keep the turnaround going, but he also doesn't want to lose sight of what this experience is all about, and that's to have fun. Calipari said that goes for both fan bases and told listeners on Tuesday to enjoy this week and not be nasty with rival fans.

"I'm proud of them," Calipari said of his team. "You got a lot of guys with smiles on their faces. And you guys that have listened to me every year, you know I say we have to have more fun than the other team. Bottom line, you've got to have more fun. The last game I kept saying, don't make the game bigger than it is. It's just a basketball game."

Try telling that to the people that will text Calipari if Kentucky wins again.

"This is a time to enjoy all this," he said. "Don't be anxious, don't be uptight, don't--just enjoy the ride and what's going on. A lot of you are going to Indianapolis. Well, have fun."

To bring you more expansive coverage, CoachCal.com 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 CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

Andrew Harrison had 18 points in UK's 73-66 win over Louisville on Dec. 28. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Andrew Harrison had 18 points in UK's 73-66 win over Louisville on Dec. 28. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Kentucky and Louisville went nearly three decades without running into each other in the NCAA Tournament before a Final Four matchup in 2012 that essentially shut down the state.

Two years later and two rounds earlier, it's happening all over again in the Sweet 16.

For the second time in five days, the eyes of the college basketball world will be on the Wildcats when they square off with the Cardinals at 9:45 p.m. on Friday. Before then, you'll surely read countless stories about the rivalry and what it means to fans, and the relationship between John Calipari and Rick Pitino will be dissected yet again.

But there's time for all that later. For now, we're going to stick to the stats that could decide the winner of the latest Dream Game.

As we have done for each of UK's two NCAA Tournament wins, we're going to use kenpom.com's advanced data to evaluate the two teams. First, let's take a look at the stats that decided the December matchup between the two teams when the Cats scored their signature regular-season win in Rupp Arena, 73-66.

1. Turnovers -- And really, it's not even close.

Like most Pitino-coached teams, Louisville thrives on turnovers forced with their pressure, both full- and half-court. In spite of a freshmen-laden backcourt, the Cats were exceptional taking care of the ball against the Cardinals.

UK committed turnovers on just 15.7 percent of its possessions and 11 for the game. On defense, the Cats exceeded their season average and forced turnovers on 18.6 percent of the Cards' possessions and 13 for the game.

As a result, UK was the only opponent to have a positive turnover margin against U of L in the regular season. Saint Louis matched the feat in the round of 32, winning the turnover battle, 19-18.

2. Rebounding -- As the Cats have done so often this season, they exerted their will on the glass and won the rebounding battle, 44-36, even though leading rebounder Julius Randle had just three as he battled second-half leg cramps.

UK was solid on the defensive glass, grabbing 69.2 percent of Louisville's misses (27 of 39), but even better on the offensive boards. There, the Cats rebounded 41.5 percent of their own misses (17 of 41). That's a big part of the reason why UK was just one of five U of L opponents this season to score more than one point per possession against the Cardinals.

3. 3-point shooting -- Given that UK shot just 3 of 14 (21.4 percent), this might make you do a double-take.

However, U of L shot just 6 of 26 (23.1 percent) from deep to counteract 53.1 percent shooting from 2-point range. The Cardinals are shooting 37 percent from 3 to UK's 32.7 percent, so treading water from deep was a win for the Cats.

With that behind us, let's take a look at the rematch.

When Kentucky is on offense

It's always interesting to see an offense and defense so efficient match up. UK currently ranks 17th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, while U of L is third on the defensive end.

It's even more interesting that matchup play out when the two units are good for completely contrasting reasons.

The Cats are good on offense thanks to their superb rebounding (second nationally) and free-throw rate (seventh). The Cardinals, meanwhile, are average or below average in the two corresponding defensive categories, ranking 231st in rebounding percentage on the defensive end and 124th in defensive free-throw-rate.

U of L makes up for its deficits by contesting shots and forcing turnovers at an exceptionally high level, ranking sixth in effective field-goal percentage defense (.438) and second in turnover percentage (.252). The Cardinals are the only team in the country to rank in the top 10 in both categories. On the flip side, UK is 158th in effective field-goal percentage (.498) and 167th in turnover percentage (.183).

In December, it was UK that most effectively capitalized on its offensive strengths. If the Cats can duplicate that performance -- and maybe even do a little better than shoot 16 of 30 from the foul line -- they could be on the way to a fourth Elite Eight in five seasons. U of L will have other ideas.

When Kentucky is on defense

This matchup is a bit more straightforward, matching strength vs. strength.

UK and U of L are an identical 29th nationally in effective field-goal percentage on offense and defense, respectively. Both are also solid rebounding units. The Cats (167th in turnover percentage) should not expect many Louisville mistakes, as the Cardinals are 25th nationally in turnover percentage behind sure-handed point guards Terry Rozier and Chris Jones.

To limit the Cardinals again, UK will need to protect its defensive glass and force Russ Smith to take contested looks once more. The All-American scored 19 points in the first matchup, but did so on just 7-of-20 shooting.

Bottom line

The pace of Friday's game will be worth paying attention to. On the season, UK is averaging 2.6 fewer possessions per game than U of L.

In the postseason, the difference is even starker. In playing their best basketball over the last five games, the Cats are averaging just 62.4 possessions per game. By contrast, U of L is speeding it up in the postseason and averaging 69.4 possessions in the American Athletic Conference and NCAA tournaments.

UK will likely try to grind it out against the Cardinals, but don't think the Cats can't win a fast-paced game. The regular-season matchup featured 70 possessions.

Regardless of tempo, the outcome is going to come down to which of these two teams playing at their peak executes in a high-pressure environment.

UK and U of L fans each have reason to be confident. Every national champion in the history of kenpom.com's ratings has ranked in the top 25 of both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Cardinals are currently 15th on offense and third on defense. UK is 17th on offense and 26th on defense, one solid performance away from meeting the criteria.

To bring you more expansive coverage, CoachCal.com 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 CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.


Recent Comments

  • Guy Ramsey: The song is "The Mighty Rio Grande" by the band This Will Destroy You. read more
  • Griffin: What's the name of the song that this video starts playing when describing Cal getting ejected and Aaron talking about read more
  • Quinn : It was an amazing run! I hope you all return and make another stab at it. read more
  • Sandy Spears: I completely with the person's comment above. So proud of all the young men and their accomplishments. They have everything read more
  • BJ Rassam: The Cats came so close to winning another NCAA basketball championship. read more
  • chattyone: Congratulations to our Wildcats! They are terrific. All of us just like these young men are disappointed in the loss, read more
  • clint bailes: Such a great season! You guys fought hard til the end. Loved watchin the season! Can't wait til next season. read more
  • Andrea Boyd: you guys are AMAZING! as individuals and as a team. thank you for your tremendous playing and work and attitudes. read more
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  • Amy Carnes: Very proud of you cats you have really grow as a team .You proved all the doubters wrong. And have read more