Vaught's Views: Louisville will test Wildcats' depth

December 26, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

If there is one game that could test Kentucky's depth, it should be the one Saturday against Louisville.

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith basically goes with a seven-player rotation - five starters and reserves Antwain Barbour and Lukasz Obrzut. Obviously, Louisville coach Rick Pitino is going to have his Cardinals test the stamina of Kentucky's starters because there's no way he won't play more than seven players - in the first 10 minutes.

Yet depth may not be nearly as important in determining Saturday's winner - or the success of UK's season - as many think. Or at least that's the opinion of ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas.

"Kentucky is really good, and I think they will be a top five team all season long," Bilas said. "While Tubby Smith has had deeper teams, he can rely upon his first seven, and go farther down his bench should he need to.


"Most coaches go with a seven- or eight-man rotation, and I still think you can win big that way as long as you don't have too many injuries. I really like Kentucky's team."

So that means Louisville won't be able to win in Rupp Arena?

"Louisville is about where I expected them to be, especially considering the Cardinals don't have a pure point guard and lack rebounding strength without Ellis Myles," Bilas said. "Louisville is an excellent defensive team with the speed and quickness to force turnovers and quicken the pace of the game.

"If the Cardinals hit shots, they can beat a lot of people. But if they play against a team with size and good guards, they will be at a disadvantage. In order to run, you have to be able to get the ball off the glass."

Louisville could have trouble doing that against Kentucky based on the way starters Chuck Hayes and Erik Daniels have rebounded. However, it also looks like UK might have trouble matching up with talented Louisville guard Francisco Garcia.

"I think Tubby can put a variety of guys on Garcia and try to wear him down a little bit," Bilas said. "Gerald Fitch, Antwain Barbour and Erik Daniels could all guard him. I think Tubby can also work Garcia by going to whomever he is guarding, run them off screens and make Garcia do more on the defensive end."

Sounds like Bilas expects Smith to make sure Garcia does not beat the Wildcats.

Of course, Pitino may have the same theory about disrupting UK point guard Cliff Hawkins.

"He will probably want to get the ball out of his hands and make others handle it," Bilas said. "Clearly, Gerald Fitch is one of the players that can take pressure off Hawkins.

"Pitino wants to speed up the game and make it a track meet. In a half-court game, Kentucky has the advantage. Louisville wants to get Hawkins and Fitch moving upcourt at a faster pace and having to make plays throughout the game at a speed they don't practice."

So what are the keys that will determine which team wins?

"To me, the keys are rebounding and 3-point shooting. If Kentucky can dominate the glass, get long rebounds and punish Louisville inside, the Wildcats will win," Bilas said.

"Kentucky has to really get back in transition. They cannot just run back to the paint. If Louisville is to win, they have to hit some 3s. Usually when the Cards win a big game, they have made more 3s than the opponent."

The Cardinals embarrassed UK last year in Freedom Hall, a loss the Cats still have not forgotten. Never mind that the loss made the Cats change their mindset and probably turned around UK's season. Kentucky didn't lose again until the NCAA Tournament Midwest Region final and has won 33 of 34 games since losing to the Cards a year ago.

To beat Kentucky Saturday, Louisville would need a phenomenal 3-point shooting game and also need to find a way to keep Kentucky from scoring the majority of its points inside.

Pitino's team certainly is capable of winning, but if Bilas thinks the Cats are going to be a top five team all season, then that means they have to be good enough to beat Louisville in Rupp Arena. Make it Kentucky 75-68.

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