Two in-state rivals square off when No. 19 Kentucky (8-3) plays No. 3 Louisville (11-1) on Saturday, Dec. 28, for a game that tips off at 3:45 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on CBS. Kentucky leads the all-time series 36-16.
The stakes in this rivalry are always high. But this year they're especially so for Kentucky, which enters on a two-game losing streak after losses to Utah and Ohio State in Las Vegas, and gets a shot at the higher-ranked Cardinals on its home floor.
But the importance of this game is high for Louisville, too. A win in Rupp Arena would mark the Cardinals' first and only road win during non-conference play and just their second win away from home in their non-league schedule.
Louisville at Kentucky: Preview
There's an old adage in sports that says that defense travels. While Louisville doesn't have to travel terribly far to get to Lexington (about 75 miles), the Cardinals will be in good shape if their defense, which ranks No. 2 nationally in terms of adjusted efficiency, plays up to its high standards in a raucous road arena.
Louisville has held Michigan to 43 points, Pitt to 46 and seven total non-conference opponents to 60 points or less with its pack-line defense. The Cardinals don't necessarily force a lot of turnovers (their 16.7 percent defensive turnover rate ranks 313th nationally) but opponents are shooting just 40.7 percent inside the arc against them and 26.7 percent from behind it.
That's why a Kentucky team that currently ranks 30th nationally in offensive efficiency, certainly a respectable mark but its lowest ranking since the 2013 season when the Wildcats missed the NCAA tournament, will have its work cut out for it.
The Wildcats' 3-point shooting woes (27.8 percent on the season) reared their ugly head in Las Vegas, where they were 2-of-17 against Utah and 7-of-23 against Ohio State. Louisville's defensive 3-point percentage suggests that Kentucky's outside looks won't be any easier to come by, or to make, against the Cardinals.
The good news for the Wildcats is that transfer forward Nate Sestina appears to be healthy after suffering a wrist injury. He played 32 minutes off the bench against Ohio State, scoring a team-high 17 points on an impressive level of efficiency thanks to his 5-of-8 effort from 3-point range.
That means the rest of his teammates were 2-of-15 from deep and while it may not be ideal or sustainable for the 'Cats to have one of their better rebounders and inside scorers that far away from the hoop, they'll likely take 3-point shooting however they can get it at this point.
As inexperienced as Kentucky's roster is at the college level (341st nationally), Louisville's roster is the inverse with three seniors and two juniors starting for the Cardinals. Junior forward Jordan Nwora's name will be on the short list of candidates for national player of the year, when award season is in full swing.
He's averaging 21.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game on a high shot volume (36 percent of Louisville's shots when he's on the floor are taken by Nwora) and a high level of efficiency (a 114.1 offensive rating).
Nwora, along with seniors Ryan McMahon (46.3% 3-point percentage) and Dwayne Sutton (41.7%), gives Louisville three 40-percent 3-point shooters in its starting lineup. Veteran big men Steven Enoch (11.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Malik Williams (7.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg) anchor the interior alongside Nwora as consistent rebounders and secondary scoring options.
A win for Kentucky would stop the Wildcats' slide before the start of SEC play and give them another quality win to join their season-opening victory over Michigan State, while a win for Louisville would cement its status as one of the best teams in the country and provide the Cardinals with the best win of their non-conference resume.
Louisville vs. Kentucky prediction
Louisville 74, Kentucky 66