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December 29, 2011Louisville's basketball team failed its first serious litmus test for top-10 legitimacy, but another one looms for the No. 4 Cardinals (12-1) that could ease some of the disappointment from Wednesday night's 71-68 upset loss to No. 12 Georgetown in the Big East Conference opener for both.
That, of course, would be No. 3 Kentucky (12-1), which will host UofL for a high noon, nationally televised showdown (CBS) New Year's Eve in Rupp Arena, where the Cards will be a significant underdog as they try to snap their two-game losing streak against the Wildcats. UK has also won five of the last seven meetings between the two bitter rivals.
"A win at Kentucky would erase some of the sting from this loss," UofL guard Chris Smith said following Wednesday's defeat, which snapped a 20-game winning streak by the Cards in the KFC Yum! Center. "But at the same time, we're 0-1 in the Big East and that's very disappointing. But we have to keep moving. I look at (the UK game) as a must win. We have to regroup quickly and play well Saturday."
Sophomore guard Russ Smith, who had 14 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals against Georgetown, believes the Cards' dose of humility could be beneficial against UK.
"We obviously learned we're not invincible and we can lose, and that should help us," Russ said. "Guys are going to be scared of losing now that we know how that feels. We'll have the fear of knowing how it feels to lose and that should help us play harder and better."
Freshman forward Chane Behanan (8 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals) said a win at UK would be a welcome antidote to the setback against the Hoyas, which was UofL's first loss in a Big East opener in five years.
"We get that victory (at UK), then everybody will be back happy, everything will be good again," Behanan said. We're going into a tough, tough environment, but we'll be alright. This game should go down in history as one of the top games (in the series) after we compete."
The Cards will be looking for a fast start against the Cats similar to the Georgetown game, but a stronger finish. Hitting five of its first seven shots, including three straight 3-pointers, UofL jumped to a 17-8 against Georgetown. However, the Hoyas kept their composure and built a 63-52 lead going into the final five minutes. UofL tied the score with an 11-0 run and looked as if it was going to pull out another of its magical home wins, but Georgetown scored the next six points to regain control.
"We made a tremendous comeback," Russ said before acknowledging that mounting such a surge in Rupp would be much more difficult.
"We know how good Kentucky is, there's really no sugarcoating that," he said. "They go off the bounce, they've got shooters, they've got big guys, they've got good swing guys, they rebound, run the floor. So it's really going to be a tough matchup for us, but guys are very motivated and enthusiastic."
Kentucky also tuned up for the battle Wednesday night with an 86-64 rout of Lamar, a team UofL beat by about the same margin, 68-48, on Nov. 13.
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