LEXINGTON, Ky. — Identity-building seems more important right now for No. 12 Kentucky and 16th-ranked archrival Louisville than claiming Bluegrass bragging rights.
The winner of today's noon showdown (Ch. 10) at Rupp Arena can take a big step in that process, along with giving its fan base something to feel good about entering conference play.
The young and talented Wildcats, replacing seven players who turned pro after last season, are still finding their way after opening at No. 2. They face an 11-1 Louisville squad with something to prove as well, and Kentucky junior guard Dominique Hawkins believes that beating another quality opponent provides more motivation than the rivalry.
"We know that they're a great pressing team and I'm pretty sure that's what we're going to prepare for," the Richmond, Ky., native said of the Cardinals. "It's just another game and we're just looking to win."
If the Wildcats are going to come away with a victory, they'll have to beat a Cardinals team that might be even hungrier than Ohio State. The Buckeyes were unfazed by Kentucky's height and hype in their 74-67 win last week in Brooklyn. Ohio State led throughout and withstood a second-half rally led by Jamal Murray's 33-point explosion.
Impressive as Murray's game was, Kentucky coach John Calipari seeks more offensive contributions. A presence in the middle will be needed on both ends against the quick, physical Cardinals.
As Kentucky works to establish continuity, its inside game could be helped with the addition of 6-foot-10, 255-pound forward Tai Wynyard from New Zealand. He has had only a couple of workouts, and Calipari has been coy about whether he'll play today because he's a work in progress — much like the Wildcats.
"We've got things that we've got to do," Calipari said. "We're still tweaking offensively exactly how we have to play. I saw some good stuff in the second half of that game (Ohio State). But, we're a ways away."