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Men's Basketball

Kentucky vs Louisville: TV/Streaming Info, Keys to the Game, and Predictions

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Kentucky Wildcats guard Ashton Hagans throws up L's down after beating the Louisville Cardinals at the KFC Yum Center.
© Matt Stone/Courier Journal

Coming off a win in another instant classic game against North Carolina, the Kentucky Wildcats will have a much easier contest on Thursday as they travel 80 miles west and play the in-state rival Louisville Cardinals, in the KFC Yum Center.

Just 5-6 on the season, the Cardinals have already surpassed their win total from last season (4-28), but the outlook is not hopeful. With just a 9-34 record overall over the last season and a half, Louisville has been one of the worst Power Five teams in the country under the direction of former Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne.

While the on-court product has been bad, even losing two exhibition games to D-II programs, the “extras” have compounded the frustration with things such as:

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  • Being “tricked” by Indiana’s zone defense.
  • A player refusing to play before giving the correct compression tights.
  • Lying about a player’s transfer/dismissal.

All this put together displays why all signs point to Payne being fired soon, but as of this article, he is still employed and is still set to coach against Kentucky.

That said, let’s take a look at the matchup.

Keep Them Off the Free Throw Line

Louisville is bad at a lot of things, but there is one thing they are good at and that is drawing fouls and making their free throws. Drawing more than 20 fouls per game and shooting nearly 74 percent on their free throws, the Cardinals score more than 25 percent of their points from the line, the second most of any Power Five team.

Their reliance on free throws makes sense when you consider that they are below 300th in the country in three-pointers attempted and three-point percentage.

Aaron Bradshaw and Ugonna Onyenso will play big parts in the game plan, providing rim protection. However, Louisville will be looking to draw contact and put them in foul trouble. Kentucky’s guards will have to play better on-ball defense as the front line and they must improve their high-screen defense which North Carolina picked apart at the end of the game.

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Paint Yum Blue

Following Rupp Arena’s renovations in 2022, which lowered capacity from 23,000 down to 20,500, the Yum Center became the largest arena in the United States by seating capacity designed primarily for basketball at 22,090. However, it has been years since a sell-out and this season attendance has hit a new low.

If you look at tickets sold, you will see numbers between 10,000-12,000, suggesting that the Yum Center is at half attendance. However, in actual tickets scanned, there were just a little over 4,000 against Arkansas State last Tuesday.

With plenty of tickets available, the #PaintYumBlue movement has started on social media. With Big Blue Nation looking to make Thursday’s game a road environment, Louisville season ticket holders are doing their best to capitalize on the interest, selling lower-level tickets for as much as $1,100 dollars. That breaks down to $220 per win.

Louisville is trying to rally their own fans and make it a red-out, but it doesn’t look like that will end well…

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Cal Taking it Easy?

During his time at Kentucky, John Calipari is 12-1 against his former assistant coaches with an average margin of victory of 24.6 points, the lone loss coming against Josh Pastner in 2020. While yes, Calipari will want to keep a level of respect, he has never shied away from beating his former assistants handily.

Given that the players understand what this rivalry means to Kentucky fans, i.e. Bradshaw wearing a “Louisville Doesn’t Exist” t-shirt, I expect they will want to win by a big margin too.

Kentucky Wildcats vs. Louisville Cardinals

  • Time: 6:00 pm ET on Thursday, December 21st
  • Location: KFC Yum Center in Louisville, Kentucky
  • TV Channel: ESPN
  • Announcers: Wes Durham and Jimmy Dykes will call the action.
  • Online Stream: WatchESPN and the ESPN app.
  • Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
  • Replay: WatchESPN and the SEC Network (check local listings).
  • Rosters: UK | UofL
  • Stats to Know: UK | UofL
  • KenPom: UK | UofL

Odds: ESPN’s matchup predictor gives Kentucky an overwhelming chance at victory, at 86.4 percent. Bart Torvik and EvanMiya favor the Cats as well, but slightly lower at 84% and 79%.

PredictionsBart Torvik picks Kentucky to win by double digits, 86-74, but EvanMiya interestingly projects just a 9-point win over one of the worst Power Five teams in the country. Haslametrics projects the largest margin of victory for the Cats, 87-72.

Also published on A Sea of Blue.

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Men's Basketball

Lamont Butler Believes In Mark Pope And Will “Do Whatever It Takes To Put A Number Nine Up In Those Rafters”

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Lamont Butler transferred to Kentucky to prove that his more than just a defender.
Photo by Eddie Justice | UK Athletics

Lamont Butler has proven himself as one of the premier defenders in college basketball over the last four seasons at San Diego State, having earned MWC All-Defense honors in three straight seasons and winning the 2024 MWC Defensive Player of the Year Award.

With that level of defensive impact, Butler had no shortage of interest when he put his name in the transfer portal this Spring. In less than 48 hours after officially entering the portal, he had his decision, choosing Kentucky and becoming just the second commit of the Mark Pope era.

Butler’s parents, Lamont Butler Sr. and Carmicha Butler, recently spoke to KSR about how the family decided on Kentucky and what kind of player and young man the Wildcats are getting.

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“I can start off simply by saying that it’s Kentucky,” Lamont Sr. said. “Most kids in America, if they ever got the opportunity to play for a program like that, any kid would jump at it. With Lamont being in the position in life that he put himself in, it was the perfect move for him.”

While the brand of Kentucky Basketball is a big selling point, and one that Pope is emphasizing more than Calipari did, it was not the only selling point. The other big part was how Butler was going to be used at Kentucky, and Pope and his staff hopped on a plane to Las Vegas where he was working out, to do just that.

“We were at the gym working out, when, all of a sudden, we see the men in black coming in,” Lamont Sr. said. “I’m like, wow. It was the whole kit and caboodle. They were serious about Lamont.”

Before meeting with Butler and his family, Pope was already very familiar with his game having competed against him for three seasons at San Diego State in the MWC, and that certainly showed.

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“He practically broke Lamont’s game down,” Carmicha said. “He told him how he played, who he is, how he wanted to use him, his plans for him at Kentucky, and what he wanted to do with him. For me, it was amazing for Pope, who he never played for, to know that much detail about my son, on and off the court. That was a major plus, a major benefit.” 

Pope’s plan for Butler though is to show off his full game. While he is known as a defender, there is much more to his game, with his father highlighting his unselfishness and leadership.

“Lamont is the type of player who’s unselfish to a fault,” Lamont Sr. said. “I was telling someone, that Lamont scored 1,000 points but would’ve passed those 1,000 points up to make the right play. There are too many selfish players in the world. Everybody wants me, me, me, me, me. Lamont is about us, us, us. I told him that’s what’s going to take him far in life.” 

Those two characteristics are a big reason why Pope wants Butler on the ball, rather than off the ball which was the case most of the time he was at San Diego State.

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“It doesn’t matter to Lamont, but Pope is going to have him on the ball. That’s what a lot of people don’t know,” Lamont Sr. said. “That’s what it’s going to be, to lead the team and make sure he’s playing faster than he’s ever played.”

The primary thing though, Kentucky fans are getting a player who is willing to do whatever it takes to put another banner in the rafters.

“They’re getting somebody who’s going to give it his all on the court, injured or not,” Lamont Sr. said. “He’s going to be out there and do whatever it takes to put a number nine up in those rafters. That’s what Lamont is coming to do.”

Also published on A Sea of Blue.

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Men's Basketball

Trent Noah Says He Looks up to His Friend Reed Sheppard, On and Off the Court

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Noah: UK Athletics, Sheppard: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

The level of high school basketball talent in Kentucky is the best it has been in several years. Last year, Kentucky fans got to witness the emergence of Reed Sheppard, and they are hopeful more of “Kentucky’s own” can help the Wildcats on the court under Mark Pope. Two such players are coming in next season, Mr. Kentucky Basketball Travis Perry of Lyon County, and Trent Noah of Harlan County.

The latter was recently interviewed by a fellow Kentucky native and former Wildcat, Cameron Mills, and the UK Sports Network. In that interview Noah not only talked about his excitement to join his home-state program and preparation for this coming season, but he also talked about looking up his friend and former teammate Reed Sheppard.

“He’s (Sheppard) such a great player. One of the best I have ever been around,” Noah told Mills. That just doesn’t stop off the court either. “He is a really good person. A really good friend. Someone I look up to.”

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Noah is just one year younger than Sheppard, but both are from the 13th region and the two formed a friendship when they were teammates for two seasons in the Adidas 3SSB Circuit with Midwest Basketball Club. What does Noah look up to Sheppard most for?

“He’s such a great leader. He’s always leading by actions. He just knows how to play. He has that natural gift. He’s always in the right spot at the right time. He obviously shoots the cover off the ball.”

Noah notes that to take some of those attributes and apply them to his game wouldn’t do anything but help them.

Toward the end of the interview, Mills asked Noah a theoretical question: “In an NBA-style three-point contest, who’s winning, you or Reed?”

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We know that Sheppard just shot the third-best three-point percentage in Kentucky basketball history, but he shot just over 30 percent in high school. Whereas Noah shot 43% (102-237) from 3-point range as a senior. With that, Noah is taking himself. “He can shoot it, but I don’t know if I can say he would beat me.”

It’s pretty cool to see the connection that Kentucky’s own have with the program and share with each other. Check out the full interview below!

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BB Recruiting

2025 Five Star, Potential Reclass Candidate Will Riley Begins Kentucky Visit

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2025 five star prospect and reclass candidate, Will Riley, takes his official visit to Kentucky June 4th-6th.
IMAGN/USA Today

Will Riley, one of the top rising seniors in the class of 2025, is set to begin a two-day official visit to Kentucky on Tuesday. This was first reported by Kentucky Insider last week.

The 6-foot-8 small forward out of Malvern, PA, is currently down to five schools: Kentucky, Arkansas, Arizona, Illinois, and Alabama, and is leaving the possibility of playing professionally in the NBL in Australia. Riley is coming off a visit to Illinois and will visit Alabama later this week.

Already considered a consensus Top 25 prospect in the country according to 247 Sports, ESPN, and Rival, Riley’s stock is only continuing to rise. His calling card is his scoring ability and he has put that on display this Spring.

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Through the first four sessions of the Nike EYBL circuit, he is averaging 21.9 points per game, on fairly efficient numbers, shooting 49.6 % from the field,  31.7 % from three-point range, and 79 % from free throws. Riley also adds 4.7 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game in just under 30 minutes.

A possible reclass candidate, Riley is considering making the jump from the 2025 class to the 2024 class. That decision is yet to be determined, adding an element of suspense to his potential future in college basketball.

With one current scholarship remaining for the upcoming roster, Kentucky is open to Riley reclassing and joining this year’s roster, underlining the significance of his potential addition to the team.

However, Jaxson Robinson’s commitment makes it less likely that Kentucky would be the choice if he does reclass. If he decides to remain in the 2025 class, Kentucky would remain toward the top of his list.

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Does Riley become the first top 25 recruit in the Mark Pope era?

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