Cats Clash With Cards on Saturday

The Kentucky-Louisville rivalry couldn’t have been much more foreign to Marcus Lee just a few years ago.

Growing up in Antioch, Calif., nearly 2,500 miles from Rupp Arena – the site of Saturday’s annual reprisal of the “Dream Game” between the intrastate foes – he knew little about what he was stepping into when he arrived in Lexington.

Kentucky vs. Louisville
Sat., Dec. 26 - 12 p.m. ET
Rupp Arena
Lexington, Ky.
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UK 2015-16 Team Stats UL
9-2 Record 11-1
0-0 Conference Record 0-0
.471 FG% .519
.399 Opp FG% .352
.297 3FG% .381
.674 FT% .680
78.4 PPG 86.1
40.7 RPG 43.1
6.2 BPG 5.8
12.8 APG 15.3
6.7 SPG 8.4
He knows about everything there is to know now.

“Now that I have the total story of it -- I ‘ve been here a while, I understand it,” said Lee, now a junior. “It starts growing on you.”

The rivalry grew on Dominique Hawkins long ago. Hawkins, also a junior, grew up in the thick of it in Richmond, Ky., a UK fan from birth.

Like Lee, his perspective on UK-U of L has changed over the last three years.

“I know as a fan I look at it like a rivalry, but once I came here I don’t look at it as a rivalry (anymore) because, as Coach Cal says, we’re just trying to play to the best of our abilities,” Hawkins said.

Inside the walls of the Joe Craft Center, the Wildcats will practice, review film and prepare just as they do for any other opponent. It’s outside those walls where the approach changes.

UK’s veterans appreciate that.

“It’s more of a gift to the rest of the state of Kentucky, and that’s how I go through it,” Lee said. “I see it as we do it to give back, especially during Christmas time and the New Year’s. It’s something that everybody enjoys.”

The youngsters don’t have a complete grasp of what’s before them yet. They are, however, aware of the challenge the No. 16/15 Cardinals (11-1) present to No. 12/11 UK (9-2).

“I mean we have guys who probably don’t know that part of it,” John Calipari said. “The Kentucky kids do. The other kids know that, hey they’re a ranked opponent, they’re playing really good and we’re going to have to play well to win. If we don’t play well it’s going to be a really, really hard game for us.”

The Cardinals, per usual, are among the nation’s top defensive teams. They rank No. 3 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to, allowing a scant 0.819 points per possession and forcing turnovers at the 20th-best rate in America.

“Playing Louisville, we know that they’re a great pressing team and I’m pretty sure that’s what we’re going to prepare for because my first two years I know that they love to pressure the ball and do that as well,” Hawkins said.

Applying the pressure will be a talented Louisville backcourt that features experienced fifth-year transfers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, as well as sophomore Quentin Snyder and true freshman Donovan Mitchell.

“Their guards are playing well,” Calipari said. “They’re shooting the ball well, scoring well, and have three really good older players. They’re playing aggressively defensively. They’re really playing well.”

They don’t set the tone as much as U of L’s guards do, but the Cardinal big men are playing well too. Chinanu Onuaku leads a group of six frontcourt players getting at least 12.1 minutes per game.

“I think it’s a great thing that we’re playing against a lot of different bigs throughout our beginning season,” Lee said. “It shows how our bigs are able to change up and play differently and that’s what we’re really trying to show.”

But as good as Louisville might be and as intense as the rivalry is, Saturday’s game is still just another step on Kentucky’s journey. That’s why Coach Cal dismissed the Cats for a short holiday break after last weekend’s loss to Ohio State. That’s why he’ll continue to keep the focus internal in practice.

“We’re trying this week, next week and the next two weeks to work on situations,” Calipari said. “That’s part of the issue. We just have to clean it up a little bit and get them to understand the important plays. There were eight or nine possessions each half in the Ohio State game, simple things, and then three or four plays in each half were critical. All of those breakdowns led to baskets. You try and eliminate those.”

Through 11 games, UK has established its strengths. Now it’s about addressing the weaknesses.

“We’re a team that applies pressure,” Calipari said. “We pressure the ball. We play fast. We have that identity. The question is exactly how are we playing. It’s not an identity thing. The second thing is we are still trying to figure out ways of getting to 50-50 balls and beating people to balls. That’s normally what our team is built on and right now we’re not winning that battle and that’s where we’ve got to get to.”

Best in the Bluegrass

Kentucky has been dominant against teams in the state under John Calipari, especially against Louisville.

UK is 13-1 against in-state foes with Calipari at the helm, including 7-1 vs. Louisville. Two of the victories came in postseason play. UK has won three straight in the series and all three meetings in Rupp Arena, site of this year’s game.

Here’s a list of the meetings between the state’s two premier programs since Coach Cal took over at Kentucky:

• Jan. 2, 2010 - UK won 71-62 at Rupp Arena
• Dec. 31, 2010 - UK won 78-63 at Freedom Hall
• Dec. 31, 2011 - UK won 69-62 at Rupp Arena
• March 31, 2012 - UK won 69-61 at the Superdome (NCAA Final Four in New Orleans)
• Dec. 29, 2012 - Louisville won 80-77 at Freedom Hall
• Dec. 28, 2013 - UK won 73-66 at Rupp Arena
• March 28, 2014 - UK won 74-69 at Lucas Oil Stadium (NCAA Sweet 16 in Indianapolis)
• Dec. 27, 2014 - UK won 58-50 at Freedom Hall

Calipari on the Verge of Win No. 200

Now in his seventh season at Kentucky, John Calipari is just one win shy of 200 career wins at UK. Currently at 199 wins, Calipari is on track to reach 200 victories at UK faster than any other head coach. Rick Pitino, currently the fastest to 200 wins at Kentucky, captured his 200th Wildcat win during his 249th game. The legendary Adolph Rupp reached 200 during his 250th game.

With one more win to reach the milestone, Calipari has coached in 239 games at Kentucky. If Calipari can win No. 200 against Louisville, he will become the second-fastest Division I men’s basketball coach to reach 200 victories at a single school (Clair Bee at LIU-Brooklyn achieved the feat in 231 games).

Calipari would also become just the 11th head coach in Division I men’s basketball history to have at least 200 victories at two different schools while becoming the fifth coach at Kentucky to reach the 200-win plateau.

He’s currently the only coach in NCAA history with at least 189 victories at three different schools.

Murray-Led Second-Half Rally Falls Short in Loss to Ohio State

Trailing by 16 in the second half, the Wildcats’ largest deficit of the season, Kentucky staged a furious rally behind Jamal Murray’s sensational second-half performance and nearly came back to beat the Buckeyes on Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic. In the end, however, the comeback bid wasn’t enough, as the Wildcats dropped their second game of the season, 74-67, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Ohio State’s hot shooting from the outside got the Buckeyes out to an early double-digit lead that, for a while, appeared too big to overcome. But Murray and Co. wouldn’t go down without a fight.

Kentucky’s leading scorer put together his best performance of the season in the second half for a career-high 33 points. Murray’s seven second-half 3-pointers got the Wildcats to as close as 63-60 with 4:10 left in the game, but UK could never quite get over the hump and lost for just the third time in the last two seasons.

Murray’s 33 points were the second most of the John Calipari era, behind only Terrence Jones’ 35 vs. Auburn on Jan. 11, 2011. It was the second most point total by a freshman in school history (Jones has the most), and the 27 second-half points were the most in any single half in the Calipari era.

Other notables:

• Junior Marcus Lee came off the bench to score 12 points and lead UK in rebounding for the second straight game
• Sophomore Tyler Ulis scored 11 points and dished out four assists
• Senior Alex Poythress scored six points and seven rebounds while making his first 3-pointer of the season
• Freshman Isaiah Briscoe dished out a career-high-tying seven assists
• UK hit a season-high nine 3-pointers. The 47-percent output from long range was also a season best