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More than just another game, Kentucky-Louisville rivalry more meaningful to Hawkins, Willis

By Keith Taylor
KyForward senior sports writer

No one understands the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry more than Dominique Hawkins.

“It means a little more to me since I’m from the state,” the Kentucky senior guard said Tuesday. “I guess guys that are new here or from different states don’t really know about the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry but it’s going to be a great game (Wednesday).”

Kentucky senior Dominique Hawkins is 4-0 against Louisville going into Wednesday night's showdown between the two instate rivals (Tammie Brown Photo)

Kentucky senior Dominique Hawkins is 4-0 against Louisville going into Wednesday night’s showdown between the two instate rivals (Tammie Brown Photo)

Like Hawkins, Derek Willis said the rivalry is more meaningful being from the Bluegrass.

“We take the same approach to every game,” Willis said. “We always have routine stuff we want to get done, so we look at it in that sense. But, I think personally it means a lot more to me.”

Although Kentucky has won four straight against the Cardinals, most of those encounters have been too close for comfort, including last season when the Wildcats yanked out a 75-73 victory over the Cardinals at Rupp Arena.

Hawkins had one of the best games of his career against Louisville last year, scoring a career-high 13 points. Hawkins also made three clutch 3-pointers to keep Kentucky’s winning streak against its instate rival intact. Going into the 50th meeting between the two instate foes, Hawkins doesn’t expect to fly under the radar.

“It’s going to be different this game,” he said. “I feel like they’re going to come out, be ready to play and not give up any open shots.”

Read More at Keith's Blog

Read More at Keith’s Blog: Out of the Blue

Hawkins said being part of the rivalry for the past four seasons has been an experience the former Madison Central standout and Mr. Basketball considers as a “blessing.”

“I want to thank the man above for that,” Hawkins said. “It’s crazy to be able to say that I’m a Kentucky player because I always dreamed that. Now, tomorrow, hopefully I get a chance to play and do well.”

Like the previous two games between the two foes, which have been decided by 10 points or less, Wednesday’s contest is shaping up to be another wire-to-wire encounter.

Both teams are 10-1 and ranked in the Associated Press Top 10. The sixth-ranked Wildcats edged No. 8 North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic last weekend, while Louisville, ranked 10th in the nation, rolled to an 87-56 win over Eastern Kentucky.

“Louisville is a great team,” Hawkins said. “They (have) always came out and played hard against us (and) I’m pretty sure they’re going to come out, play hard against us, fight and try to beat us.”

Despite the battle for state supremacy, Hawkins said preparing for the Cardinals won’t require any unusual adjustments.

“There’s no real difference (preparing for the game),” he said. “We basically do whatever we would have done (preparing for) any other team. But, we know they’re a really good team and they’re going to bring it at us. We’re just going to fight back at them.”

The contest also will be the first of two straight road games for the Wildcats. Kentucky is 4-0 away from home this season, but all four games have been played at neutral sites, including last weekend’s contest in Las Vegas.

Hawkins wouldn’t be surprised if the Kentucky’s newcomers experience some jitters but said the nerves will eventually wear off after tipoff.

“Everybody gets a little nervous during their first true road game, but once you get going, the butterflies go away,” the senior guard said. “Louisville is a great team (and) a Top 10 team, so it’s going to be hard coming in their place and win.”

Malik Monk, who scored a freshman school record 47 points in the win over North Carolina, doesn’t know much about Louisville or the rivalry between the two schools but relies on Hawkins and Willis for discussion on past history between the two instate rivals.

“I’ve seen them a little bit, but I never paid attention to them,” he said. “I know Dom and Derek talk about the rivalry (a lot).”

Hawkins added the previous four games away from Rupp Arena have provided a glimpse of what to expect when it comes to playing on an opponent’s home floor.

“They definitely prepared us for road games because we know that our – well, we have a lot of fans that come on the road for us, but the North Carolina game felt like a tournament game when I was there,” he said. “Neutral is kind of different from a true road game because tomorrow is going to be a true road game and there’s just going to be Louisville fans there most of the time. Hopefully if we do get some fans we can hear them.”

Four days removed from Kentucky’s dramatic win over the Tar Heels, Hawkins isn’t concerned about a letdown.

“We’ve just got to come out and play, basically,” he said. “We’ve got to come together as a group and say, ‘let’s take it one game at a time’ just like we did with North Carolina.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Louisville, 7 p.m., Wednesday. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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