Cracking the Cards’ defense

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This game will be decided by defense.

Specifically, Louisville’s defense — and UK’s corresponding ability to score points on it.

Louisville’s offense is inconsistent and, even at its best, short of dominating. The Cats’ defense is one of the best in the country. UK should have no problem limiting the Cardinals.

But they will be tested to break away on their own. Louisville’s defense ranks first in adjusted defensive efficiency (84.0), according to KenPom.com. It throws in a variety of looks, from full-court pressure to man-to-man to a 2-3 zone.

Head coach John Calipari said that he expects Louisville coach Rick Pitino, with five days to prepare, to have “come up with a few things [on defense] to try to — I don’t want to use the word trick — but to confuse a team that starts two freshmen and three freshmen.”

Can UK’s offense avoid the confusion? They’ll have to be clicking in multiple facets of the game:

  • Shooting. Louisville’s best — only? — hope to win this game is to make the Cats miss. A lot. It happened in the first game, when UK shot a season-worst 29.8 percent (it didn’t shoot worse than 35.9 percent in any other game), and it was the key factor in last year’s Final Four loss (UK shot 33.9 percent against UConn). It sounds so simplistic, but it may just be that simple: make shots, win the game.
  • Taking care of the ball — If Louisville hopes to create confusion among UK’s young players, the desired result is to create turnovers. In the first game, the Cards forced 21 turnovers. For UK, that mark was almost double its season average of 11.3 turnovers per game. “Louisville presses the entire game and tries to control you off their defense,” Marquis Teague said. “It’s real important that I take care of the ball.”
  • Rebounding — UK outrebounded Louisville 57-31 and scored 14 more second-chance points in its 69-62 win on Dec. 31. The Cats statistically look like they can replicate that success — they have a plus-7.0 rpg margin, while the Cardinals are plus-1.5. UK’s frontcourt should have the advantage; can Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist work effectively in the paint and control the interior?

It’s been a week of storylines, of hype, of rivalry. But we often forget what creates all that in the first place: a basketball game.

And in this basketball game, UK’s offense holds the key to advancing.