LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - As the man who coached Xavier to six wins in nine tries against its hated crosstown neighbor Cincinnati, Chris Mack knows a thing or two about bad blood.
And although Saturday’s 2 p.m. game against Kentucky will be Mack’s first as Louisville’s coach, he’s plenty familiar with the rivalry.
“It’s the best non-conference game in the entire country,” Mack said Friday as he took reporters' questions about the 52nd game between the Bluegrass bluebloods. The No. 16 Wildcats (9-2) visit the Cardinals (9-3) at KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville.
Kentucky won last year’s matchup and has captured five of the last six meetings, and nine of the last 11, including two NCAA Tournament wins.
UK’s win in Lexington last December was a blowout. Tied at 21-21, the Wildcats outscored the visitors, 20-6, to close out the first half, then opened the half on a 13-6 run to build a 21-point lead. Kentucky would outscore UofL, 49-34, in the second half, to breeze to a 90-61 win.
“I was not in the locker room, I was not on the sidelines, I was not part of the chemistry of that team,” Mack said when asked to compare last year’s team to this year’s. “But as a competitor, if you haven’t internalized that, and thought about that 90-61 ass-whooping, then I don’t want you on my team.”
Guard Christen Cunningham, the senior transfer from Samford, will return to the UofL lineup following a concussion that sidelined him for Louisville’s defeat of Robert Morris on Dec. 21. Though Cunningham is new to the rivalry as a player, the Georgetown, Ky., native is familiar with the rivalry. He said he knows UK relies heavily on its interior players.
“The strength of their team is inside,” he said. “They’re one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. They get fouled a lot. They look good.”
Mack agreed that Kentucky’s interior players are a concern.
“Their bigs tend to set quick pick-downs,” he said. “They draw fouls at a very high rate ... Every guy out there is a five-star (player).”
But Mack did say that while it’s important to be prepared for each opponent’s strengths, there’s more to it.
“We’re always concerned more about ourselves than the opponent, regardless of how good the opponent may be,” he said. “(The rivalry) doesn’t make me prepare any harder, but I think this is why you come to Louisville, to play in games like this.”
Saturday’s game is UofL’s last non-conference matchup of the season; ACC foe Miami visits the KFC Yum! Center on Jan. 6.