WKU to take on No. 4 Louisville in just ‘another game’


WKU and Louisville native Jamal Crook (14) will head to the KFC Yum! Center to take on No. 4 Louisville on Friday at 6 p.m. CT.

Cole Claybourn

Friday’s game between Louisville and WKU couldn’t be much more lopsided on paper.

The Cardinals come in to the schools’ 75th meeting undefeated and ranked No. 4 in the country with an average margin of victory of just under 17 points. WKU, on the other hand, enters with a 4-8 record, nowhere near the Top 25 and is being outscored by its opponents by a total of 84 points.

But that’s not enough to convince players and coaches to overlook the game.

“We’re treating it just like another game,” freshman forward George Fant said. “We’re focused. We’re just really focusing right now. Our mentality is to just go in there and get a win.”

Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino fought off the notion when speaking with reporters on Thursday that the contest is a “trap game.”

“Trap games are when you think you’ve got a great basketball team and you’re full of yourself and you’re looking down the road,” he said. “We fully understand who we are. We fully understand anybody can beat us on a given night…If we get beat it’s not going to be because of those clichés of a trap game or looking ahead or stuff like that.”

WKU will travel to Louisville play in the KFC Yum! Center for the first time, looking to snap a two-game losing streak after losses to IUPUI and Furman. The game will be televised on ESPN2 at 6 p.m. CT.

The 11-0 Cardinals enter as 26-point favorites according to several betting websites and beat the same IUPUI team by 30 points, 90-60, on Dec. 7.

Things haven’t gone so well for WKU when facing Louisville since its 68-54 upset of then-No. 3 ranked Louisville in 2008.

The last time WKU traveled to Louisville, in 2009, the Toppers left with a 102-75 loss at Freedom Hall. The Cardinals traveled to Bowling Green last season and dealt WKU a 114-82 loss at Diddle Arena.

Head Coach Ken McDonald said he’s hoping Friday’s result looks a little more like the 2008 result and a lot less like the past two.

“We kind of need a signature win to get us some confidence of what we’re doing,” he said on Thursday. “We have a lot of new guys in the mix and sometimes you need a big victory or getting in there and playing hard and putting yourself in position to win a basketball game.

“Our guys have to believe in what we’re doing and understand that all this work is paying off in some way.”

But again, Pitino maintained that he’s prepared his team just like he does before any other game.

“We don’t concentrate at all on teams that are great or struggling,” he said. “We won’t deal with this game any different than Georgetown or Kentucky. We’ll try to take away their strengths and try to exploit their weakness, then try to figure out what they’re going to do against us.”

Louisville boasts an experienced team with seven upperclassmen and three scorers averaging in double figures. 

WKU is perhaps a mirror image of Louisville, with seven freshmen and just five upperclassmen, one of which  junior guard Caden Dickerson  will miss the rest of the season due to an injury. The Toppers have just one player  freshman guard Derrick Gordon at 10.7 points per game  averaging in double figures.

To add to it, the numbers don’t point in the Toppers’ favor. WKU is 34-87 all-time against ranked opponents and 6-22 against top five teams.

But McDonald doesn’t need to be told twice. He knows his team is the underdog.

“I don’t think anyone thinks we’re going to win the basketball game,” he said. “I think our players in the locker room have worked hard to prepare. I think they’re getting tougher, they’re getting better and now we have to go out and what better environment to execute in than, obviously, at Louisville.”

While it will be the first game for WKU in the Yum! Center, Fant and Gordon played in the arena last spring during the Derby Classic.

To help prepare for what could be a rather loud atmosphere, crowd noise was pumped into Diddle Arena during practices this week, Fant said.

Friday’s game will provide a homecoming for junior guard and Louisville native Jamal Crook.

It will be also serve as a rematch for two former high school rivals, Fant and Louisville freshman Chane Behanan.

Fant said the two have exchanged some friendly trash talk this week to each other. But as it stands, Fant holds the upper hand on Behanan. Fant’s Warren Central team beat Behanan’s Bowling Green team five out of their eight total matchups, the last being the regional final that sent Warren Central to the KHSAA Sweet 16 last season.

Fant said he’s trying to tip the scale just a little more in his favor on Friday.

“I’m just going to try to get another win against him,” he said. “That’s it.”

The trash talk from Behanan wasn’t limited to just the few exchanges with Fant. Earlier this week, Behanan was quoted as saying Louisville was in fact the No. 1 team in the country and would go undefeated this season.

That didn’t sit too well with Fant and the rest of the team.

“We took offense to that as well,” he said. “We’re ready.”