LOUISVILLE – December 26, 2020
|Kentucky at Louisville|
|Sat., Dec. 26 – 1 p.m. ET|
KFC Yum! Center
Game Notes: UK (PDF) | UL (PDF)
Radio: UK Sports Network
Kentucky head coach John Calipari likes it when his teams become empowered and when the team is player-driven. That means that the players can rely on themselves as much as they can on the coaching staff.
Calipari recalled a particular moment when last season’s team became empowered.
“When did my team last year become empowered?,” the UK coach asked. “I got thrown out of the (Arkansas) game and Ashton (Hagans) puts his arm around me and says ‘Coach, we got this. Coach, I’m telling you, just go, we’ve got this. And I walked off the floor and we outscore them by 20 points. At that point, we became empowered.”
Calipari is hoping to make that empowerment happen with this year’s team.
Since Kentucky last played, a 75-63 loss to North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic in Cleveland, Calipari has named three unnamed players to be the leaders who will handle what the head coach calls non-negotiables. He’s hoping that will lead to empowering this team.
“We named three guys to be leaders, to do away with all the non-negotiables, attitude, how you accept coaching, I’m not dealing with any of that,” Calipari said. “The players are going to deal with it. Trying to get them to be more in control of how we’re playing offensively.”
Freshman Lance Ware indicated that the team is on board with the team leaders.
“They’re going to handle little stuff like attitudes,” Ware said. “They’re trying to keep everybody in check and in line so we don’t have any problems we can avoid.”
Kentucky returns to action on Saturday, facing intrastate rival Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center. Calipari has a sparkling 11-2 record against Louisville during his time in Lexington. That includes a pair of wins in the NCAA Tournament, one of which came in the 2012 Final Four.
While Calipari and his Cats have dominated the Cards in recent meetings, this year’s game could be one of the most important for Kentucky since Calipari arrived in 2009. This season’s Cats are 1-5 with SEC play right around the corner and need to get things headed in the right direction.
With neither team ranked, the rivalry could be seen as lacking some luster this season. But Calipari does not see that at all and thinks the rivalry is still among college basketball’s best.
“I think there still is, that’s why ESPN moved the game because people are going to want to see the rivalry of the game,” Calipari said. “It’s the Louisville game, whether it’s (former U of L head coach) Rick (Pitino) or (current U of L head coach) Chris (Mack), it really doesn’t matter. We know they’re going to come in and fight. They do a great job. They’ve got big guys, they’ve got guards, they’re rebounding the ball, they fight, they absolutely try to take 15 charges a game.”
The good news for this year’s Cats is that they have played better in parts of their last two games. In the second half against Notre Dame, Kentucky rallied from its largest-ever home court halftime deficit to having a shot to win the game at the buzzer. Against North Carolina last Saturday, the Cats played well for about 30 minutes before the Tar Heels rallied late to win. Still, the effort was an improvement for Kentucky for the second straight Saturday. Now, Calipari and his team are hoping to figure out the end of games.
“We’ve got to figure out how to play the last four minutes in these kind of games,” Calipari said. “I still have great faith.”
And while he has put the non-negotiables on his trio of leadership, there are still things Calipari must focus on and help his team to do better.
“If you watch for 20, 30 minutes of these games you’ll watch and say ‘how do you get that for 40 minutes? How do you eliminate unforced errors?,” Calipari said. “That’s what my job is because they don’t have the answers to that. That’s got to be me making things clearer.”
Calipari hopes to make it simpler for the Cats.
“Don’t worry about talent, skill,” Calipari said. “What can we deal with? One, attitude. How about game-planning, how about effort and let’s dive on the floor and let’s take charges. That brings energy. For us, we’ve just got to continue plugging away.”
Calipari is hopeful that the empowerment of this team happens on Saturday. That would be a welcome post-Christmas gift for him, the players and the Big Blue Nation.
The Best Rivalry in College Basketball
With all due respect to all other rivalries, fans of Kentucky and Louisville will tell you the UK-Louisville game is the best rivalry in all of sports. Given the tradition, there is a strong argument.
Separated my a mere 80 miles, the two schools are the bluebloods of the Bluegrass State. They have combined for more than 4,000 wins, 11 on-court national championships and 27 Final Fours, including a combined six since 2011. Countless All-Americans have put on uniforms for the two schools.
UK owns an all-time record of 37-16 against the Cards, including an 11-2 mark since John Calipari took over the reins and a three-game winning streak. Kentucky is 13-9 vs. Louisville in the Derby City and 3-2 in the Calipari era.
Two of UK’s victories were when the stakes were at their highest in the NCAA Tournament. The first was in the 2012 Final Four in which Kentucky went on to win the national title. The second was in 2014 in the Sweet 16, as the Wildcats went on to the Final Four again.
Only three times — all UK victories — in those 13 games since Calipari took over has the game been decided by more than 10 points. Last season was a classic as it marked the first regular-season overtime game between the two rivals. Nick Richards scored seven points in a row in overtime to defeat the No. 3/4 Cardinals 78-70.
The two schools had a 24-year gap without a game following the 1959 meeting before the “Dream Game” revived the series in 1983. The two schools have played each other every year since.
The highest-scoring game came in 1991 when UK won 103-89. Prior to Louisville’s win in 2016, Kentucky’s four-game winning streak in the series was the longest since UK won five straight from 1916-51. As is often the case in most games, the team that has won the battle of the shooting percentages has won 11 of the 13 games in the series under Calipari.
This will mark the first Kentucky-Louisville matchup where both opponents are unranked in the Associated Press Top 25 since Jan. 5, 2008 in Rupp Arena. The Cardinals won that game 89-75.
In a rivalry that divides houses in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, it should come as no surprise that the matchup features connections on both sides.
Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus‘ mother, Mary Ann Justus, worked as an administrative assistant for Wake Forest while Louisville head coach Chris Mack was an assistant there under the late Skip Prosser.
UofL Athletic Director Vince Tyra was a four-year letterwinner and two-time captain for the Wildcats baseball team from 1985-88. He started 37 games for UK during his career and started 37 career games on the mound.
Also, Louisville assistant coach Dino Gaudio, a friend of John Calipari‘s, previously attended Calipari’s annual fantasy basketball experience and Keion Brooks Sr., the father of UK’s Brooks Jr., is the godfather to Lousiville’s Carlik Jones.
Best in the Bluegrass
Kentucky added to its impressive record vs. local competition under John Calipari with a win over Morehead State in the season opener.
UK is 20-2 against in-state foes with Calipari at the helm, including an 11-2 mark vs. Louisville. Two of the victories over the Cardinals were in postseason play. UK’s four-game winning streak was snapped in 2016-17 but the Wildcats have won all six meetings played in Rupp Arena, including a 29-point blowout in 2017-18, the third-biggest margin of victory in the history of the series. Louisville’s two wins are by a combined six points.
Here’s a list of the meetings between the state’s two premier programs since Calipari took over at UK:
• Jan. 2, 2010 – UK won 71-62 at Rupp Arena
• Dec. 31, 2010 – UK won 78-63 at the KFC Yum! Center
• Dec. 31, 2011 – UK won 69-62 at Rupp Arena
• March 31, 2012 – UK won 69-61 at the Superdome (NCAA Final Four in New Orleans)
• Dec. 29, 2012 – Louisville won 80-77 at the KFC Yum! Center
• Dec. 28, 2013 – UK won 73-66 at Rupp Arena
• March 28, 2014 – UK won 74-69 at Lucas Oil Stadium (NCAA Sweet 16 in Indianapolis)
• Dec. 27, 2014 – UK won 58-50 at the KFC Yum! Center
• Dec. 26, 2015 – UK won 75-73 at Rupp Arena
• Dec. 21, 2016 – Louisville won 73-70 at the KFC Yum! Center
• Dec. 29, 2017 – UK won 90-61 at Rupp Arena
• Dec. 29, 2018 – UK won 71-58 at the KFC Yum! Center
• Dec. 28, 2019 – UK won 78-70 (OT) at Rupp Arena