For the first time since the 2010-11 season Kentucky will enter a basketball game as a decided underdog, the unranked team looking to make a statement against a top five opponent. It is a welcome change for a team that consistently gets everyone's best shot.
Kentucky guard Jarrod Polson said the Cats relish the rare role of underdog
The Cats may be the ones with a four-game winning streak in the series but it will be No. 4 Louisville that feels all the pressure when the two rivals tee it up on Saturday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center in front of a national television audience.
“I definitely think that kind of motivates (us) a little bit because no one really thinks we can win the game,” Kentucky guard Jarrod Polson said. “Any time that happens it kind of motivates you a little extra more. I definitely think that will be good for us. We're not really used to being the underdog at Kentucky so I think it's good for us.”
“This is a big game, I believe,” UK forward Nerlens Noel added.
Not since playing No. 1 seeded Ohio State and No. 2 seeded North Carolina in the 2011 NCAA Tournament has Kentucky been considered a significant underdog, but the Cats won each of those games in a three-day span on the way to the Final Four. They were minor underdogs against Duke and Notre Dame this season but those games had a different feel than the latest edition of the Commonwealth's bitter rivalry.
Kentucky winning would not be a major surprise but it certainly isn't the expected outcome against a deep, experienced Louisville team that returned nearly everyone from the squad that lost to Kentucky in last season's Final Four.
“This is a great challenge for us,” UK coach Calipari said. “If you ask me, I would say what I'm seeing right now, you're talking about a team that should be or is the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing.
“This comes at a great time for us,” Calipari added. “We just are winding down a bunch of workouts, doing different things, trying to change mindsets, trying to change habits. Then, you're going against an opponent like this, that's maybe the best team in the country with talented players. At each position they can beat you. This is what we need. Let's see where we are.”
That doesn't mean Kentucky will be intimidated when it takes the floor. In fact, the Cats have set their sights on ruining the home team's New Year's.
“You go in there and beat them and just pretty much mess up their whole day, their week or whatever,” Noel said. “That's something you look forward to. (Saturday) that's something we'll be looking to do.”