Cats vs. Cards – 3 Things to watch



1. Anthony Davis’ minutes: In January, weeks after losing 69-62 to UK in a defense-oriented slugfest, Louisville coach Rick Pitino said the secret to beating the Wildcats was getting forward Anthony Davis in foul trouble.

The Cardinals almost did just that in the first meeting, forcing him into two first-half fouls, but they — like almost every other team not named Indiana — couldn’t keep Davis off the floor enough to prevent him from changing the game.

“I said, ‘Look, they’re getting layups right now because he’s not in the game,’ ” Calipari told his team at halftime in that Dec. 31 win. “‘When I put him back in at the start of the second half, you’ll see what he does for you guys.’ ”

What did he do? Lead UK to a win. And, if he can stay on the floor, UK’s chances to repeat that result go up exponentially.

2. Russ-diculous: In the first game, Louisville guard Russ Smith accounted for 30 of the Cardinals’ 62 points. He’s been their sparkplug off the bench all season, including scoring 19 points in 22 minutes in an Elite Eight comeback win to set up this juicy matchup.

Whoever draws that defensive assignment — probably Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but multiple Cats could see time guarding him — will have to contain the bundle of energy that is Russ Smith.

“He’s from a different planet,” Rick Pitino said.

Of course, it’s not just Smith the Cats have to guard. Chane Behanan has potential to turn in a good game. Kyle Kuric could always light it up from outside. But Smith is the most important player for the Cats to contain.

3. Handling the stage: John Calipari admitted UK was “off kilter” in last season’s Final Four loss, that the “bright lights” may have gotten to them.

His hope is that more experience (Terrence Jones, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb have been there before) can in turn help the freshmen avoid the wide-eyed look that could sink the season. It’s totally plausible, however, that this team gets caught in the massive build-up this week has brought and shrinks under the pressure.

But this team has also carried the bulls-eye of being the title favorite and the best team all year. If anything can prepare it for playing a Final Four in a massive dome against its biggest rival, it’s a year’s worth of similar hype for just being that good.

Bottom line: The Cats have been playing, top to bottom, the best they’ve played all year. All six major players have turned in performances ranging from solid to spectacular in each of UK’s first four NCAA Tournament games.

A loss would be devastating for the UK fan base and for Calipari. To have their dream season abruptly end by the team regarded as the “little brother” in the relationship would be the absolute worst-case scenario.

But I just don’t see it happening. Final score: UK 73, Louisville 65.