Rivalry Not the Only Reason UK-Louisville a Big One

Matthew Mitchell isn’t one to downplay a hyped regular-season matchup.

He always keeps his team’s ultimate goals in mind, but he’s able to appreciate and talk about the magnitude of a game like the one Kentucky will play against Louisville.

The game has Mitchell’s attention for a few reasons, the first being the obvious one.

“We certainly respect the rivalry,” Mitchell said. “It’s a big game. We feel grateful to be at the University of Kentucky and we know how much the game means to our fans.”

Regardless of records, rankings or venue, the rivalry means something. That will again be the case when No. 8 UK (7-0) welcomes U of L (3-4) to Rupp Arena at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

“I just have so much respect for Louisville and their players, and how well coached they are, that I just get a little bit worked up as a coach hoping we’re prepared and ready,” Mitchell said. “It’s a big game; it’s a meaningful game. “

Outside of noted Cardinal killer Janee Thompson – averaging 15 points in three career games against U of L, all wins – Mitchell has a roster of players who have been on the floor for a combined 48 minutes against Louisville. And the player who has accounted for 15 of those minutes – Alyssa Rice – is set to make her season debut after a stress reaction sidelined her for Kentucky’s first seven games.

But experienced in the rivalry or not, Mitchell is not concerned about his team’s ability to cope with it.

“I would tell you, we have a really great group,” Mitchell said. “A really hard working group. They’re smart players. I don’t think that they are going to not respect the rival or not respect the intensity. That would really shock me if they don’t come out with intensity.”

The Wildcats will need that intensity. Mitchell calls Louisville UK’s “strongest test to date,” which is another reason he’s excited about the game.

“They are extremely talented, very well coached, explosive on offense, very tenacious on defense and so it’ll be the stoutest test we’ve had so far,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been working really hard over the last week to try to get better as a basketball team. That’ll give us an opportunity to see where we are.”

Not only that, but the game – if UK can win it – could be a boost to the Cats’ long-term prospects, just as it has been during their four-game winning streak over the Cardinals.

“I think it’s a quality win for whoever’s able to get the victory and that’s a credit to both programs for being so strong,” Mitchell said. “And so it’s a big game. It means a lot. We’ve worked hard to prepare and we’re excited to go play and certainly know it’s going to be tough.”

And to add a little intrigue, the game will be one of two UK plays in December at Rupp Arena. More could come if the Cats advance in the NCAA Tournament. Rupp will play host to a regional in March.

“Well, it’s clearly one of the iconic buildings in the country when you talk about college basketball,” Mitchell said. “There’s a lot of history in that place, as there is in Memorial Coliseum. I do love Memorial, but it’s a special opportunity and I think the players enjoy it. We’ve had tremendous support down there and we need a huge crowd down there tomorrow night to try to help us out. So I would call on Big Blue Nation to turn out in force tomorrow night. We need you.”