No. 19 Kentucky and Louisville renew rivalry
The holidays mark a lull in the college basketball schedule. Players scatter to be with family or head back to school, teams get their last extended break before the conference season starts.
The result is a light schedule in The AP Top 25.
No ranked teams play each other this week, but one game stands out: No. 16 Kentucky at Louisville on Saturday.
Both teams have had their share of ups and downs so far, but the Bluegrass battle usually brings out the best in both teams, along with a bit of animosity.
“If I had to put it in one word, it’s nasty,” Louisville freshman forward Jordan Nwora said after the Cardinals beat Robert Morris on Friday.
The Kentucky-Louisville rivalry is one of the best in American sports. The schools are about an hour apart and the game is for a year’s worth of bragging rights as the best team in the Bluegrass state.
Kentucky blew out Louisville last season and has won nine of 11 in the series since 2010.
The Wildcats were the preseason No. 2 this season, but got off to a rough start, routed 118-84 by Duke.
Kentucky seemed to find a rhythm after that, only to suffer a surprising 84-83 loss to Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 8.
Since then, the Wildcats (9-2) got their groove back.
Kentucky rolled over Utah by 27, then beat No. 9 North Carolina 80-72 for its first marquee victory of the season.
“We’re not the same team we were two weeks ago,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “It’s not even close. And hopefully two weeks from now, we’re not gonna be the same team we are today.”
Chris Mack has hit the ground running with a Louisville program that had been mired in turmoil.
The former Xavier coach has coaxed a team lacking size and experience into a solid start.
The Cardinals are 9-3, their only three losses to teams currently in the AP Top 25: No. 3 Tennessee, No. 18 Marquette and No. 23 Indiana. They beat Michigan State when the Spartans were ranked No. 9.
Louisville trailed Robert Morris at halftime in its last game before using a 20-2 second-half run to win 73-59 despite point guard Chisten Cunningham sitting out in concussion protocol. He hit his head on the floor during practice and his status for Saturday’s game is unclear.
“Personally, I don’t know if I’ve ever player for a coach who’s been so intense in terms of wanting us to play hard and give maximum effort all the time,” Nwora said. “If he sees you’re not giving that, he’s going to be on you right away.”
Expect intensity on both sides Saturday night in this rivalry game.
WOLF PACK TEST
No. 6 Nevada has passed every test so far to remain one of Division I’s five undefeated teams.
The Wolf Pack face one more nonconference step before starting the Mountain West Conference season, playing at Utah on Saturday.
The Utes (6-5), like most of the Pac-12, have struggled during the nonconference season, but the Huntsman Center is a difficult place for any team to leave with a victory.
Nevada (12-0) is off to its best start during its Division I era (since 1969-70), with wins over No. 17 Arizona State, South Dakota State and its All-America candidate Mike Daum, and Loyola-Chicago in a rematch of last year’s NCAA Tournament.
The Wolf Pack are coming off a harder-than-expected win over Akron in their last game, overcoming an 8-for-24 night from the 3-point arc to beat the Zips 68-62. Nevada is 27 of 112 from 3 its last four games.
“Offensively, I have to help our team more,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “I feel like the Grinch, but it is what it is. We’re regressing big-time offensively, so I have to figure something out.”
AT THE TOP
Duke returned to No. 1 this week after beating No. 12 Texas Tech at Madison Square Garden on Thursday and will have a long break before playing again. The Blue Devils, who moved atop the AP Top 25 poll after Kansas lost, open the ACC season against Clemson on Jan. 5.
No. 2 Michigan hosts Binghamton on Sunday, No. 3 Tennessee faces Tennessee Tech and No. 5 Kansas plays Eastern Michigan on Saturday.
No. 4 Virginia’s next game is Monday against Marshall before opening ACC play against Florida State on Jan. 5.