LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The most critical factors in Saturday’s clash between Louisville and Kentucky are obvious. They’ve been discussed at length in the days leading up to this rivalry game.
For Louisville …
Peyton Siva has to be a fluid game manager, especially in the last five minutes (assuming it’s a tight game, of course).
Gorgui Dieng has to give Rick Pitino valuable minutes in his first game since suffering a wrist injury in late November, but he doesn’t have to be an All-American.
The Cardinals need solid production from Montrezl Harrell and other reserves.
For Kentucky …
Harrow has to maintain the same poise that has helped the Wildcats win four in a row (16 assists, three turnovers in the team’s current winning streak).
Nerlens Noel has to protect the rim for Kentucky.
And the Wildcats have to adapt to Louisville’s gritty style by responding with their own physicality, something they didn’t do in losses to Duke, Notre Dame and Baylor.
Wiltjer can disrupt Louisville’s D
In Kentucky’s three losses, the sophomore went 1-for-2 (vs. Duke), 0-for-4 (at Notre Dame) and 1-for-9 (vs. Baylor) from 3-point range. He has had other poor performances from beyond the arc. Even though he’s a 41 percent 3-point shooter this season, his success has come in spurts.
But he can change this game. His shooting ability could be the key to disrupting Louisville’s typically disciplined defense, the most efficient unit in America, per Ken Pomeroy. Kentucky has to move Louisville around on defense, and the only way to do that is to hit shots inside and outside.
Against Lipscomb on Dec. 15, Wiltjer hit seven 3-pointers. Lipscomb isn’t Louisville, but the psychological effect of that outcome could have an impact Saturday.
Blackshear might be Kentucky’s toughest matchup
When I saw Blackshear in high school, I figured he’d be a one-and-done prospect. He was strong, and he possessed a variety of skills. Then, he suffered a shoulder injury his freshman season and never fulfilled his potential in 2011-12.
The current version of Blackshear, however, resembles the player so many projected him to be when he was a McDonald’s All-American. Blackshear is far more aggressive than he was in limited action toward the end of last season.
He’s the inside-outside threat that could give Kentucky the greatest challenge. He can get to the rim, but he’s not afraid of the 12-footer, either. And now he’s attacking the glass (10.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG).
Blackshear might not fill up the stat sheet like Smith on Saturday, but he might be the most important player on the floor for Louisville because of the matchup nightmare he could create for John Calipari’s squad.