Lexington, KY -- Imagine a place where college athletics reigns king. A place where a rivalry goes beyond two academic institutions. Imagine a place where the talk around the table at family gatherings does not center around family, but on an upcoming basketball or football game, and a fight about a team's superiority is inevitable.
A place where you're either RED or you're BLUE. And there is no in-between. Imagine a place where the hatred between two fan bases is year around, 24/7. All day. Every day.
WELCOME TO KENTUCKY.
When you think of Kentucky, horse racing and bourbon come to mind. However, for locals, there's a tradition that runs deeper through the heart and soul of the Bluegrass: College Basketball.
The rivalry between the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky is one of the most heated rivalries in the country. Maybe it's the bourbon that flows through the blood of every Kentuckian that makes the rivalry so intense.
One thing is for certain, once the ball is tipped, the ferocious Battle for the Bluegrass begins.
The Louisville Cardinals head down the I-64 Corridor to Blue Blood Nation to face the No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats.
On the current Louisville roster, not one player has experienced a win against Kentucky. Despite coming in as the favorite, the Cardinals have not topped their in-state foe since 2010.
After last year's loss, Louisville head coach Jeff Walz said, "Unfortunately for us, it's been four years, and we're not thrilled with this. There's no question about it."
The Cardinals have a daunting task ahead as they face a team that is 118-24 at home under current head coach, Matthew Mitchell. The Wildcats not only have stellar athletes; they have experienced athletes.
The Wildcats return six players from the 2014-2015 team, including senior Janee Thompson, who put up 19 points in last year's 77-68 victory over the Cardinals. Thompson is averaging 15 points per game, connecting on 46.8% of her shots from the field, an impressive 51.6% from three.
Thompson leads the team in assists with 50 on the season. Also returning is stand out guard, Makayla Epps. The 5'10 Kentucky native leads the team in scoring averaging an impressive 16.2 points per game.
The Wildcats are coming off of a four game win streak a home, scoring 87 or more points in each of the games. Kentucky is 7-0 this season, and it's easy to see why the Cats are ranked in the Top 10. The Kentucky defense is smoldering, holding opponents to 32% from the field, a blistering 28.2% from the three-point line. On the flip side, the Cats are on fire, shooting 49.1% from the field, 41.5% from three.
But, the Cardinals don't look too shabby. Louisville is averaging 12 steals per game -18th in the nation - and 15.8 offensive rebounds. The Louisville bench is contributing significantly, averaging 24.1-points, putting up more than 25 points in each of the last five matches.
The Cardinals boast a potent mix of offensive weapons in sophomores, Mariya Moore and Myisha Hines-Allen, and junior, Briahanna Jackson. Through seven games, the trio ranks in the Top 20 in the ACC in points per game. Moore is currently tied for ninth in the ACC scoring 15.4 points per game, Jackson comes in at 17th boating 13.4 points, and Hines-Allen is right behind at 18th with 13.1 points per game.
The last time out, the Cardinals uprooted Valparaiso, 75-42. The Cardinals saw five players hit double figures, include three freshmen. It's no surprise that Myisha Hines-Allen and Mariya Moore led the team with 12 points each, respectively.
However, it was three freshmen, Asia Durr, Erin DeGrate and Sam Fuehring, who had the crowd roaring, putting up 10 points apiece. Junior Cortnee Walton attacked the glass for the Cardinals with a game-high 11 boards.
The Cardinals, who looked lost defensively at the beginning of the season, have put up a valiant defensive performance in the last two games, forcing 22 Valpo turnovers and 27 Michigan State turnovers. However, the defense still has room for improvement as the young team is allowing opponents to shoot 44.5% from the field.
Thursday's meeting between the Cards and the Cats will mark the 52nd time the rival have faced off. The Wildcats lead the series, 33-18.