Battle of the Bluegrass Looming as No. 6 Kentucky Visits No. 10 Louisville
By JOHN MARSHALLLAS VEGAS (AP) — Kentucky played North Carolina in arguably the best college basketball game of the season, a thriller that may not be topped again until March Madness hits.
The sixth-ranked Wildcats don’t get much time to enjoy it.
Next up is No. 10 Louisville on Wednesday, a rivalry game that had their attention right after the buzzer sounded in Las Vegas on Saturday.
“Now we’ve got another war in three or four days after we traveled half a country away to go back home and play Louisville on the road,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
Kentucky (10-1) has one loss, to No. 2 UCLA, and blew out everyone else it played, so Calipari wanted a close game for his young team.
It certainly got it against North Carolina .
The Tar Heels have the length and athleticism to match the Wildcats, and the teams put on quite a show along The Strip, trading highlight-reel plays.
Playing in front of about 50 NBA scouts, Kentucky’s Malik Monkscored a Kentucky freshman-record 47 points and hit a late 3-pointer to propel the Wildcats to the 103-100 victory. The win moved Kentucky up a spot to No. 6 in the latest AP Top 25 .
Now the Wildcats get the 50th meeting with their biggest rival.
Louisville (10-1) had a hard time shaking Grand Canyon on Dec. 3 but has won its past three games in blowouts and has one of the nation’s best defenses.
The Cardinals lead the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing 87.8 points per 100 possessions, and held Wichita State to 17 points in the first half earlier this season.
Louisville-Kentucky games are always intense, and last year’s game was won by the Wildcats 75-73 to give Coach Cal his 200th career victory.
“We’re going to run with them, but we have to take good shots,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “Hopefully it’s good enough to beat them. They are a great transition team.”
Louisville’s schedule doesn’t get much easier after Wednesday. The Cardinals play No. 12 Virginia on Dec. 28, No. 16 Indiana three days later, then at No. 25 Notre Dame on Jan. 4.
That Bluegrass battle isn’t the only rivalry game this week.
Also on Wednesday, No. 22 South Carolina hosts Clemson in a 9 p.m. EST game.
The Gamecocks (9-1) dropped six spots in the poll after losing to Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden but bounced back with an 11-point win over South Florida .
Clemson (8-2) has rallied from losing two of its first four games — to Xavier and Oklahoma — with six straight wins, including 67-54 over Alabama on Sunday.
South Carolina leading scorer Sindarius Thornwell has been suspended indefinitely for violating athletic department policy, so the Tigers could have a shot on the road.
The holiday week is light on big-time matchups and front-loaded with games, with no Top-25 teams playing on the weekend.
Kentucky-Louisville is the only game between ranked teams and many of the teams in the Top 25 are expected to have blowouts against smaller schools.
A handful of games could be close, at least for a little while. Those include No. 18 Arizona, which is short-handed, against New Mexico on Tuesday and No. 8 North Carolina against Northern Iowa on Wednesday.
A few teams that could make a move into the poll with wins this week:
Florida. The Gators (8-3) had a rough week two weeks ago, losing to Duke and Florida State, but again received votes this week after blowing out Charlotte . They play Little Rock on Wednesday.
Virginia Tech. The Hokies (9-1) have three wins over Power-5 teams and their only loss was close to Texas A&M. They received more votes last week and could find themselves ranked with a win over Charleston Southern on Tuesday.
Maryland. The Terps (11-1) have wins over Georgetown, Richmond and Oklahoma State and may be back in the rankings with a win over Charlotte on Tuesday.
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.