Bluebloods Louisville, Kentucky ready to tangle

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 16:  John Calipari the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats gives instructions to his team in the game against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Rupp Arena on December 16, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

LEXINGTON, Ky. — With Friday’s game approaching, fans might be focused on Louisville, the rival, but Kentucky coach John Calipari is thinking about Louisville, the next opponent after a tough loss.

No. 16 Kentucky (9-2) meets Louisville (10-2) on Friday afternoon at Rupp Arena. The Cardinals have won six straight against unranked opponents while Kentucky is coming off an 83-75 loss to UCLA on Dec. 22.

“I told them I wasn’t mad about the game. I’m not angry with anybody. I don’t think in those terms,” Calipari said Thursday. “My thing is how do I get them to play better? If they’re unaggressive, then I created a culture that was unaggressive. If they’re not beating anybody to 50-50 balls, that is a culture that has been created. Well, that’s my job to change that culture and get them back to being aggressive and attacking.”

The loss forced Kentucky to take measure of itself with Louisville on Friday followed by the start of Southeastern Conference play on Sunday.

“I’m asking questions of myself,” Calipari told the team during a team meeting Wednesday. “Now, are you asking questions of yourself? There’s the one that when you’re young you’re not ready for. You love hearing alibis for how you played.”

Kentucky lost to UCLA in part because it gave up 12 3-point baskets. The Wildcats also allowed the Bruins to go on an 18-2 run divided over the end of the first half and the start of the second.

“We had no aggressiveness. We got beat to everything,” Calipari said. “We still have a couple of guys that aren’t desperate enough. When do you get the importance of coming up with balls?

“When the house in burning, everybody gets it,” Calipari said. “You either get the fire or you get the smoke, but everybody gets it. We’ve got to come together and know that we’ve got to defend better. We’ve got to be more aggressive; we got to make easy plays. It takes time to break through that.”

The game will be the first in a decade without former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino stalking the Louisville sidelines. The coach and his boss, athletic director Tom Jurich, were summarily dismissed by the university against a backdrop of an FBI investigation over alleged payouts to a player’s family.

Fans might argue it’s a game-changer for the rivalry, but Calipari knows it won’t impact his players. Zero scholarship players are from Kentucky.

“Knowing my guys, they don’t even know,” Calipari said. “They may go into the game, ‘Where is he?’ If I didn’t show them probably wouldn’t even know I wasn’t there.”

In Pitino’s place is interim coach David Padgett, a first-year head coach at age 32. Louisville, which was preseason ranked top 10 before the Pitino/Jurich debacle, is 10-2.

“I think David is doing a great job with this team,” Calipari said. “The returning players are all playing well. They’re making shots. When they make shots, they beat you big.”

The Cardinals’ most notable wins are reputation only – 71-62 over Indiana and 81-72 against Memphis. The Hoosiers did upset Notre Dame in overtime, but also suffered 20-point losses to Indiana State and Fort Wayne. Memphis has not beaten anyone of note.

“They’re doing some of the things that he’s learned, some of the zone stuff is the same,” Calipari said. “But some of it is his own and it’s really creative stuff, which is good, and it plays to his team.”

Deng Adel leads Louisville with 15.6 points per game following by Quentin Snider’s 12.3 points per game. Ray Spalding adds 10.8 points per game.

The Cardinals are shooting 45.7 percent, including 35.8 from 3-point range, while averaging 78.8 points. On defense, they are limiting opponents to 37.6 percent and a paltry 29.8 from 3-point range. Louisville averages 40.5 rebounds and has 162 assists vs. 142 turnovers.

Kentucky is led by Kevin Knox at 15.7 points per game with Hamidou Diallo close behind at 15.5 per game.