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NEW ORLEANS — When the UK men’s basketball team met the Louisville Cardinals in December, little went according to plan.
The Wildcats shot a season-low 29.8 percent from the field, were whistled for a season-high 23 fouls and turned the ball over a season-high 21 times.
Still the Wildcats escaped their annual meeting with the Cardinals with a 69-62 win, largely behind 24 points and 19 rebounds from freshman forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
“It was a really close game,” said senior guard Darius Miller. “They did a great job with us.”
While UK head coach John Calipari and UofL head coach Rick Pitino don’t have to look far into the past for game tape of their teams playing each other, the two teams may have changed enough since December that the first meeting has little relevance in their Final Four meeting Saturday.
“They have improved and we have improved,” Pitino said during the Final Four coaches’ teleconference on Monday. “I’m sure both of us will take a look at the game — what was successful, what wasn’t, what we need to improve on.”
Calipari this week shifted his preparation work to video of UofL playing other Big East Conference opponents.
“I watched the NCAA Tournament, but those teams didn’t know them as well as the teams in the league,” he said. “So I’ve got to watch a couple of those and see what those guys did and how they played them.”
UK players aren’t focusing too much on their early-season win.
“Both teams have changed a lot since then,” said freshman guard Marquis Teague. “They’re paling a lot better down the stretch. Peyton Siva is playing great right now. We’re playing a lot different also.”
“It was a hard game,” said sophomore guard Doron Lamb of the first meeting. “They pressed us. They’ve got great players. They came out there and played hard for 40 minutes.”
One UofL player who gave the Wildcats particular trouble in the first meeting was sophomore guard Russ Smith, who scored 30 points.
On Tuesday, Calipari joked they would definitely make a defensive switch versus Smith.
“Whoever guarded him last time probably won’t guard him this time,” he said. “It will be somebody different.”
Throughout the season, Calipari has show his team very little pre-game video of their opponent.
“I don’t overload them with stuff from the other team,” Calipari said during UK’s NCAA Tournament regional trip to Atlanta. “There’s no scouting report on the other team. There’s a four-minute film session on the other team, no more.
“I want them worried about us. Let’s just have fun playing basketball. We’ll tell you what you’e got to do and how you’re going to have to play and what this other team is going to do to you. You don’t worry about it. You worry about us.”
Regardless of either team’s performance in the first meeting, Calipari is ready for a difficult game on Saturday in the Final Four.
“They’ve got terrific players who are competitors that play tough and rough and physical,” he said. “They’re coached by a guy that’s been there before. They’re going to be prepared. If you don’t think they’re going to be prepared, you’re not thinking right.”
Photos by Mark Boxley