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December 23, 2013

Cats get short break before Louisville preparation

That game against that team, Kentucky vs. Louisville, on Dec. 28?

"Worst scheduling ever," sophomore forward Willie Cauley-Stein said.

Kentucky's players left for home Saturday night after a 93-80 win over Belmont and will return Christmas night to begin preparation for Louisville, a game with meaning beyond just bragging rights.

Kentucky has lost to all three ranked opponents its faced this season; Louisville will be the last chance for a high-quality win before SEC play.

"We've played in every big game. I don't think we can play in any bigger game," freshman forward Julius Randle said. "Louisville is going to be a really big game for us, but it's just time to step up and take on leadership."

But first, its players will take those three days off. Cauley-Stein said the break will be refreshing, as players can "step back and evaluate" where their season is headed.

He also knows how much of a challenge Louisville presents and wishes the team could prepare longer.

"To be away from your teammates and your coaches for three days before a really big game is gonna be big," Cauley-Stein said. "But we'll see how it goes."

How it goes may depend in large part on Kentucky's energy, coach John Calipari said.

"(Louisville) plays extremely hard," Calipari said. "Way harder than we've played."

He saw a good dose of that energy against Belmont. It must get even better to beat the defending national champions.

"If we have any competitive spirit at all, it will raise on its own," Cauley-Stein said. "We're not going to just let somebody kick our butt and walk off the court."

Cauley-Stein said it was "vital" for players to stay in shape during the holiday break so no time is wasted once the team reassembles in Lexington.

"I was a victim of it last year," Cauley-Stein said. "It will show. You'll be dying. Coach makes practice miserable for that reason."

Even more miserable would be a second straight loss to the Cardinals -- a feeling Cauley-Stein isn't sure the freshmen truly understand.

"Until you've been here for a year, you don't know about the rivalry," Cauley-Stein said. "It's a problem. It really is, because it's so serious to people. And if you don't take it serious, then you don't care, pretty much. That's what they think."

Cauley-Stein said he's going to tell the freshmen just what this game means to get them to "appreciate" the rivalry. He didn't have anybody tell him about it last year.

He doesn't want this year's group of freshmen as unaware as he was.

From the sound of it, some freshmen have a head start.

"I've heard (about the rivalry) since I committed, when they won the national championship, to when I first got here in the summer," Randle said. "And now I'm really about to start hearing about it."

Calipari said the game is a big game "because it's the next one, and they're in our state."

He also said that his time at Kentucky has been influenced by Rick Pitino's tenure at the school 70 miles west.

"What he was doing at Louisville inspired us and me here," Calipari said. "We'd better work. We'd better get after this."

Calipari is now 4-1 against Pitino while at Kentucky.

This next game could mean more to the Wildcats' season as whole, though, than the impact on that record.

"The rivalry's the rivalry, but at the end of the day, it really is just the next game," Cauley-Stein said. "We're not playing Louisville. We're playing to get better against Louisville."


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