The way this game was discussed this week, you’d think it was the national championship and the second semifinal was the consolation game. That’s how big Kentucky vs. Louisville is — and now it’s elevated to the national stage.
The on-court matchup features two teams with contrasting styles. The Wildcats like to get up and down, relying on the superior athleticism of their star-studded roster of underclassmen to overwhelm opponents in the open floor and around the rim. The Cardinals excel on the defensive end, where their gritty guard play frustrates ballhandlers while 6-11 center Gorgui Dieng defends the paint.
But it’s the coaching clash between Kentucky’s past (Rick Pitino) and present (John Calipari) that filled front pages and message boards in the lead-up to tonight’s game. Pitino led the Wildcats to the 1996 national title in between a pair of NBA head coaching stints and leads his third team into the Final Four. Calipari, meanwhile, reached the 2008 final with Memphis, only to see his team squander a late lead and fall to Kansas in overtime. That trip, along with his 1996 appearance with Massachusetts, was later vacated. Last season, Calipari’s Wildcats lost to eventual national champion Connecticut in the title game.
Will this be the year he finally breaks through?
That’s what everyone is eager to find out. And despite his attempts to downplay the weight on his young team’s shoulders, it’s clear the bulk of the pressure is on Calipari and Kentucky to deliver this time. Few expected Louisville to reach the Final Four, but after their run to the Big East title, they represent a similar obstacle to the one that tripped up the Wildcats last year — they’re riding the biggest wave of momentum of any team left in the field... and they feel like they’ve got nothing to lose.
Tip-off is at 6:09 p.m. on CBS.
1 Kentucky (36-2)
G Marquis Teague - 32.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 4.8 apg
G Doron Lamb - 13.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.5 apg
F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - 12 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.9 apg 1 spg
F Anthony Davis - 14.3 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.3 spg, 4.6 bpg
F Terrence Jones - 12.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.8 bpg
BN Darius Miller - 10 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.2 apg
BN Kyle Wiltjer - 5.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg
4 Louisville (30-9)
G Peyton Siva - 9.1 ppg, 3.2 apg, 5.6 apg, 1.7 spg
G Chris Smith - 9.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.9 rpg
G Kyle Kuric - 12.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.2 spg
F Chane Behanan - 9.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg
C Gorgui Dieng - 9.2 ppg, 9 rpg, 1.2 spg, 3.2 bpg
BN Russ Smith - 11.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2 apg, 2.2 spg
BN Jared Swopshire - 3.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg