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Louisville seeks to end skid vs. rival Kentucky
LEXINGTON, KY. (AP) - Louisville has had enough of losing to Kentucky.
The No. 4 Cardinals have dropped four in a row to the Wildcats, including last spring’s national semifinal in New Orleans. Kentucky won that game 69-61 and went on to beat Kansas two days later for its eighth national championship.
That Final Four loss still bothers Cardinals coach Rick Pitino, who is 0-4 against Wildcats counterpart John Calipari. Fortunately for Pitino, he enters Saturday’s showdown in Louisville with an experienced team that’s 11-1 and favored to reclaim Bluegrass State supremacy.
Kentucky (8-3) started the season No. 3 behind Indiana and Louisville. But the Wildcats have fallen from the rankings and are looking to establish themselves with another group of talented freshmen.
They enter the game as an underdog against a Louisville squad that’s playing well and hungry to prove it against their archrival. However, Pitino has warned his team about getting too excited against the Wildcats.
“When it comes down to it, it’s all about execution,” Pitino said Friday. “It really is about execution. And the emotional part wears off. Sometimes emotion is a killer and it drains you. You’ve got to be very careful in this type of game that it doesn’t.”
At the same time, the Cardinals have reason to feel good about their chances. They’ve been ranked in the top six all season and have beaten quality schools such as Northern Iowa, Missouri, College of Charleston and Memphis.
Louisville has succeeded behind Pitino’s trademark: tough pressure defense. The Cardinals lead the nation in turnover margin (+8.6) and are second in steals at 11.9 per game.
Since their only loss this season against Duke, the Cardinals have won six straight. Their streak is notable because they’ve done so without center Gorgui Dieng, who broke his left wrist Nov. 23 during the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.
Expected to miss four to six weeks, Dieng was cleared this week and Pitino will start the 6-foot-11 junior against Kentucky. The Senegal native’s availability isn’t surprising, considering he had been working out and dressed the past few games.
Dieng grasps the importance of the in-state rivalry _ his parents will be among the sold-out crowd at the KFC Yum! Center. He nonetheless insisted that the timing of his return was purely coincidental.
“I’m back because the doctors cleared me to play,” said Dieng, averaging 8.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. “If the docs said I could not play this game, I would not play. It’s not because they (Kentucky) have two bigs that they want me to play. It’s not like that. I just get back because it’s a good time to be back.”
Dieng has explained the rivalry to his parents.
“I’ve told them it’s two schools that hate each other,” he said. “The good thing is, they don’t speak English. Whatever (fans) say, it doesn’t matter to them.”
What matters to Louisville is how guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith dictate the backcourt battle against Kentucky.
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