(5) Louisville (10-1) vs. Western Kentucky (8-4)
Saturday, December 22, 8:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Frank Haynes, Senior College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Bridgestone Arena (20,000) -- Nashville, Tennessee. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: UofL 6-0, WKU 5-0. Away Record: UofL 2-0, WKU 2-3. Neutral Record: UofL 2-1, WKU 1-1. Conference Record: UofL 0-0, WKU 2-0. Series Record: Western Kentucky leads, 39-36.
GAME NOTES: A pair of teams from the Bluegrass State will square off in Tennessee on Saturday night, as the fifth-ranked Louisville Cardinals and Western Kentucky Hilltoppers meet at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Louisville has just one blemish on its record through the first 11 games, that being a 76-71 setback against Duke in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis event in the Bahamas on Nov. 24. The Cardinals have reeled off five straight wins since, the most recent of which being a 79-55 rout of FIU on Wednesday. UofL has one more difficult game (vs. Kentucky on Dec. 29) before opening Big East Conference play against the visiting Providence Friars on Jan. 2.
Western Kentucky has won twice as many games as it has lost through the first month and change of the 2012-13 campaign, but the team is hoping to pull off the upset here, thus putting the brakes on a two-game slide. The Hilltoppers were most recently in action at VCU on Tuesday night, and were absolutely demolished in a 76-44 final. WKU is already 2-0 in Sun Belt Conference action, having dismissed ULM and Troy in succession a couple of weeks ago.
Louisville trails in the all-time series with Western Kentucky, 39-36, but the Cardinals have won the last three meetings and 20 of the last 23 overall.
The Cardinals have been impressive at both ends of the court this season, the team averaging 78.1 ppg in hitting 45.1 percent of its total shots, while allowing just 55.5 ppg on 39.0 percent field goal efficiency, which includes a 28.2 percent effort from 3-point range. Russ Smith is one of the top performers in the Big East, as he is netting 19.6 ppg, and the team's two other double-digit scorers are Peyton Siva (12.0 ppg, 6.4 apg) and Chane Behanan (10.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg). Louisville also owns favorable margins in both rebounding (+7.0) and turnovers (+8.6), the latter of which leads the nation. Wayne Blackshear was high man for the Cards in their recent thrashing of FIU, hitting for 18 points in 22 minutes of action, while Siva logged a double- double with 15 points and 12 assists, and Behanan had one as well with 14 points and 11 boards. Smith tacked on 14 points for the Cards, who drained 47.2 percent of their total shots, including 12-of-32 3-point tries, five of which were credited to Siva. Meanwhile, FIU made good on only 33.3 percent of its field goal attempts, missing 13 of its 18 long-range launches along the way.
Unlike their counterpart, the Hilltoppers have had difficulty putting forth a consistent effort at the offensive end of the court this season, the team averaging 68.25 ppg behind typical shooting outputs of .432 overall, .273 from 3-point range, and .616 from the free throw line. Despite those rather lackluster figures, the team boasts three double-digit scorers in the form of T.J. Price (16.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.4 apg), Jamal Crook (14.5 ppg, 4.5 apg) and George Fant (11.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg). Price has been hobbled by an ankle injury and is listed as questionable for this contest. Without its leading scorer in the lineup, WKU put forth its weakest offensive effort of the campaign in the recent loss at VCU, shooting a paltry 35.7 percent from the floor in netting a scant 44 points. Not one Hilltopper reached double figures, and the team was guilty of a whopping 32 turnovers. VCU dominated the paint (36-18), on the break (12-0), and of course in points off turnover (34-5).
If Price can't go, WKU may score even fewer points than it did the last time out, as the Cardinals certainly know how to apply the defensive pressure. In the end, expect the Cardinals to win rather easily, setting up next Saturday's showdown with bitter rival Kentucky.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Louisville 79, Western Kentucky 60
12/22 10:31:31 ET