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Preview: No. 7 Louisville and No. 14 Kentucky battle for state supremacy

The Louisville Cardinals and Kentucky Wildcats are both in the national spotlight thanks to stars Dana Evans and Rhyne Howard, among others. The winner of today’s game will have not just bragging rights as the best team in Kentucky, but also a big resume-boosting win.

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 31 Div I Women’s Championship - Quarterfinals - Connecticut v Louisville
Dana Evans has some big shoes to fill with Asia Durr gone.
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The No. 7 Louisville Cardinals (9-1) have played one game since their disappointing loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes on Dec. 5, defeating the Northern Kentucky Norse by a large margin. But Sunday, they get a real chance to redeem themselves against the No. 14 team in the nation: their in-state rival, the Kentucky Wildcats (10-0).

The Cardinals lost Asia Durr to graduation after going to the Elite Eight last year, but have returned a lot of talent, which helped them beat Oregon when the Ducks were ranked No. 1. Six-foot-four senior forward Kylee Shook led the way in that one with 18 points and 15 boards. Shook leads Louisville in rebounds (8.2 per game) and blocks (1.9 per game).

It’s junior guard Dana Evans who is by far and away the Cardinals’ best scorer. She averages 19.1 points per game, a mark that is among the best in the power-five conferences. With Durr gone, Evans needs to be the go-to player in pressure situations, and she is already exuding the necessary level of confidence.

Tall guard Jazmine Jones (6-foot-0) and forward Elizabeth Balogun (6-foot-1) are averaging double-figure scoring for Louisville as well.

The best player on the court on Sunday, however, could very well be Kentucky sophomore guard Rhyne Howard. At 6-foot-2, Howard is also in the mix with the top scorers in the power-five and has a great all-around game. She collects 5.6 rebounds per contest and leads her team with 23 steals through 10 games. The Wildcats will rely on her more heavily than Louisville will rely on Evans because the Cardinals have a superior supporting cast. But don’t put it past Kentucky, which receives 17.4 points per game from bench players Jaida Roper and Blair Green combined, to pull off the upset at home.

The Wildcats have made it to the Elite Eight four times in program history and have never been to the Final Four. Their 10-0 start and No. 14 ranking indicate that they have higher-than-usual expectations this season. This is part of a trend of blue blood men’s basketball schools who are uncharacteristically making noise on the women’s side this year: The No. 10 UCLA Bruins are also undefeated, and the No. 12 Indiana Hoosiers (9-1) have a key upset win over the No. 5 South Carolina Gamecocks.

So for Louisville, this game is about rebounding from the Ohio State loss. For the Wildcats, it’s about starting to set some new expectation for a program that has often lived in the shadow of a very successful men’s team in Lexington. And it goes without saying that this is a must-watch game on ESPN, given the intense rivalry between the two schools.

Game information

No. 7 Louisville Cardinals (9-1) vs. No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats (10-0)

When: Sunday, Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. ET

Where: Rupp Arena, Lexington, KY

How to watch/listen: ESPN/TUNEIN or UK Sports Network