The Louisville Cardinals are only a week away from playing their nemesis the Kentucky Wildcats, but first they must play another instate rival, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
Louisville has played WKU 75 times since 1923, with the Hilltoppers leading the all-time series 39-36. The Cardinals have won 20 of the last 23 matchups.
The No.5 Cardinals are 10-1, losing only to No.1 Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis. They beat FIU Wednesday night, 79-55, led by sophomore Wayne Blackshear, who scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
The Cardinals will still be without Gorgui Dieng, but Stephen Van Treese and Montrezl Harrell have done a fantastic job in his absence.
We did some good things offensively and got some good work against the zone. Western Kentucky is going to play a lot of zone, so it was good for us. We got a lot work on our man defense which we needed. We got a little bit better than the Memphis game, but we still have a long way to go on defense.
"We have a couple of days until we play a Western Kentucky team in Nashville," Pitino added, "who will do a lot of things that we will need to stop so that will be great game for us as well.”
Western Kentucky comes into the game after losing its last two games, including an embarrassing loss to VCU, 76-44. The Hilltoppers, who are 8-4, have been plagued with injuries, which has forced a lot of the younger players to step up.
“It’s been difficult,” WKU head coach Ray Harper told Michael Grant of The Courier-Journal. “We’re trying to figure out things on the fly. We have guys in positions they have never played before.”
When: Saturday, Dec. 22 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
Listen: WHAS Radio (840 AM) in Louisville, Ky.
C Zach Price, 6'10”, 250 lbs.
PF Chane Behanan, 6'6”, 250 lbs.
F Wayne Blackshear, 6'5”, 230 lbs.
G Russ Smith, 6'0”, 165 lbs.
PG Peyton Siva, 6'0”, 185 lbs.
C Teeng Akol, 6'11", 225 lbs.
PF George Fant, 6'6", 240 lbs.
F O'Karo Akamune, 6'7", 210 lbs.
G Percy Blade, 6'4", 200 lbs.
PG Brandon Harris, 6'1", 170 lbs.
Injury Report via USA Today
- Mike Marra is out for the season with an ACL tear in his left knee.
- Gorgui Dieng is out indefinitely with a broken wrist.
- Angel Nunez is out with a concussion; he is planning on transferring over Christmas break.
- Jamal Crook is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his right foot.
- Cadan Dickerson is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury.
- Nigel Snipes is out for the season with an ACL tear.
- T.J. Price is questionable for the Louisville game after suffering an ankle injury on December 5.
Matchup to Watch: Chane Behanan vs. George Fant
Behanan and Fant played against each other in high school and are well aware of each other. As freshmen last year the two kept each other in check and did not allow each other to make too many big plays.
Both power forwards are about the same size and aren't afraid to play physical.
Behanan averages 10.5 points and 7.6 rebounds a game so far this season. Against FIU, he had 14 points and 11 rebounds for his ninth career double-double.
Fant is averaging 11 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game this season. He has struggled with turning the ball over, averaging 3.2 an outing.
This should be a terrific matchup to watch, but I expect Behanan to win the battle. Fant has a lot more pressure to succeed and Behanan has been improving on his jump shot each game.
- WKU averages 68.2 points per game; Louisville is averaging 78.1.
- WKU is averaging just 12.2 assists per game; Louisville averages 15.8.
- Peyton Siva is 54 points away from scoring 1,000 for his career at Louisville.
- Louisville has scored 35 percent of its points off turnovers.
- Louisville shoots 32.9 percent from threes this season; WKU is shooting just 27.3 percent from behind the arc.
- Louisville allows just 55.5 points per game.
- Russ Smith scored 23 points against WKU last season.
Louisville plays a similar pressure defense as VCU, who forced the Hilltoppers into 32 turnovers in last weeks game. WKU is just too injured to make this a close game.
Senior point guard Peyton Siva is playing his best basketball of his career right now; I expect him to make crisp passes and make a couple of threes against the Hilltoppers. He will lead all scorers with 19 and will add 12 assists.
Freshman Montrezl Harrell will be the spark off the bench for the Cardinals. I expect him to have 13 points, six rebounds and two blocks in the game.
Louisville will win 85-62.
All stats and rankings used came from ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.
You can follow Jon on Twitter @JonKYSportsCo.