The No. 5 Louisville Cardinals (10-1) will face the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (8-4) at a neutral site in Nashville, TN on Saturday. This game will be the beginning of a new four-year series between the two; after playing each of the last four seasons.
WKU is on a two-game losing streak, but against opponents who won games in last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Toppers lost to Murray State (9-1) 70-75 and two days later dropped another game to Virginia Commonwealth (8-3) 44-76. The match-up against UofL will be their third consecutive game on the road in just seven days. Entering Saturday, their last three opponents had a combined 90-19 record one season ago and 27-5 so far this year. The Toppers are certainly being battle tested before they open Sun Belt conference play next week.
T.J. Price leads the scoring attack for WKU with 16.9 point per game and is also their top 3-point shooter (37.9 percent). Bowling Green’s own George Fant is the top rebounder for the Toppers with 7.2 per game. Louisville native Jamal Crook is probably WKU’s best all-around player. Crook is averaging 14.5 points per game, and leads the team in assist with 4.5 per game and steals with 1.7. His uncle, Herbert Crook was a starter at UofL on the 1986 NCAA Championship team.
UofL continues to rely on Russ Smith and his team leading 19.6 points and 2.9 steals per game. Peyton Siva is adding 12.0 points to go with his team leading 6.4 assist per game. Gorqui Dieng is expected to miss his sixth straight game due to an injured wrist. Dieng could also miss the Dec. 29 match-up against rival Kentucky (7-3).
The last time Louisville and WKU played in Nashville, the Toppers upset the No. 3 Cards 68-54 in 2008. Last season when the two met in Louisville, the Cardinals escaped with a narrow 70-60 win. UofL was down by 8 points with 12 minutes remaining until Russ Smith came off the bench to help kick-start a 14-0 run. Smith finished with 23 points and WKU’s Crook had 13.
Tip-off Saturday is at 8:30 pm and can be watched on ESPNU.