The annual battle between Louisville and Kentucky is one that people have been waiting all season to see. While there will be a lot of talent on the floor, the winner will be the one that does a better job of following the game plan.
Each squad has done a good job against inferior opponents early in the year, but that has not been the case in the bigger matchups. Both teams lost to North Carolina, while the Wildcats also fell to Baylor and Michigan State.
In order to have success in the future, each team has to learn lessons from the previous defeats. These lessons will turn into keys to victory in the upcoming contest.
Here is what each team must focus on in order to come out with a win against the hated rival.
Pass the Ball
When you have so many talented players on a roster, it is hard to get them to share the basketball. Every person who steps on the floor at Kentucky seems to think he is the best in the nation and can score at any time.
This is not necessarily that far off-base, as the squad currently ranks 34th in the country in points per game while sitting only 202nd in average assists. However, this will not lead to consistent scoring against a good team.
Louisville is known for its elite on-ball defense that spans the entire court. The Wildcats will not be able to beat the press or get into the lane with dribbling alone.
Andrew Harrison needs to become a true point guard and be able to set up teammates on the offensive end. Additionally, the rest of the squad has to be willing to make an extra pass when available. Otherwise, the offense will seriously struggle.
Limit 2nd-Chance Opportunities
One of the reasons Louisville is so dangerous offensively is the team's ability to grab rebounds and score on putbacks. This season, the Cardinals rank fourth in the nation with 16 offensive rebounds per game.
In order for the Wildcats to limit this offense, they will need to prevent too many second-chance opportunities. Every single possession has to be one shot and done.
Fortunately, this is also a strength for Kentucky as Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein are as tough on the boards as anyone in the nation. These players and others have to come through on the defensive end of the court and make sure they box out on every shot.
The might not be anything more frustrating than when you stop a good team from scoring, only to give up a bucket on an offensive rebound.
Pack the Defense Inside
Being from Texas, Julius Randle does not know much about the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry. According to Kyle Tucker of USA Today, the freshman has been getting an idea of why this matchup matters:
Everywhere we go, that's all they talk about. I've heard it since I committed to when (Louisville) won the national championship to when I first got here in the summer. And now I'm really about to start hearing about it.
Whether he knows what to expect or not, he will play a big role in this game after averaging 18.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game this year. Almost all of this production comes inside the paint, along with the rest of the Wildcats offense.
On the other hand, they have not fared well from the outside, making only 31.7 percent of shots from behind the arc.
Louisville has to use this scouting report, sit back on the defense and force the opponent to shoot over the top. This also means the squad should feel free to double-team forwards inside in order to stop them.
Score in Transition
Like all John Calipari teams, Kentucky is strong defensively when it gets set. However, the young team has shown a tendency to get a little lazy in transition and allow easy buckets on fast breaks.
This was seen in each of the Wildcats losses so far this year as the opposing squad was able to get down the court and score in a hurry.
Louisville has a lot of team speed, starting with leading scorer Russ Smith. The Cardinals have to find a way to turn turnovers and missed shots into fast-break opportunities and get shots off before Kentucky has a chance to react.
Both teams will want to play fast, but Louisville has a chance to really get an advantage by moving the ball as quick as possible to keep Kentucky off guard on defense.
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