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WKU set to face No. 2 Louisville on Friday in Nashville

Western Kentucky faces No. 2 Louisville on Friday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Western Kentucky faces No. 2 Louisville on Friday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. (Katie Stratman/WKU Athletics)

Western Kentucky’s already been tested, but it’s about to face its toughest challenge of the early season yet.

The Hilltoppers – off to a 6-1 start to the 2019-20 campaign – take on in-state rival Louisville, the No. 2 ranked team in the nation, at 4 p.m. Friday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The game will be streamed online on CBS Sports Network’s Facebook.

“It’s the next game – like (WKU coach Rick Stansbury) always says,” senior guard Jared Savage said. “We’re gonna prepare for them like we prepare for anybody else. It’s the next game, so we’re gonna go in there ready to play and try to see what we can do.”

WKU, which is coming off a 2-1 week in the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam tournament and has secured its best start through seven games since 2006-07, will face a UofL team that is undefeated at 6-0. The Cardinals are coming off an 82-76 win over Akron last Sunday.

Louisville has been led by a hot offense that is scoring 83.5 points per game. The Cardinals have four players averaging double figures, led by standout junior forward Jordan Nwora’s 21.3 points per outing. Alongside him, redshirt senior guard Ryan McMahon is scoring 12.3, redshirt senior center Steven Enoch is at 11.7 and redshirt senior forward Dwayne Sutton is tallying 10.5.

“I said this a couple weeks ago when they were ranked fourth or fifth – had a chance to watch some of those best teams in the country that’s ranked right now 1, 2, 3 – and I thought watching Louisville then, I thought they were the best I had seen play … for two reasons,” WKU coach Rick Stansbury said.

“I think they score the ball from all five positions. Multiple guys can score in multiple ways. Then, at the same time, I think they’re the one team in college basketball that has a real low post presence – a guy (Enoch) they can throw that ball to – besides all the other things they’ve got.”

The Hilltoppers, who closed play in the Paradise Jam with a 69-64 win over Fordham in the fourth-place game on Monday, are scoring 84 points per contest and only allowing 69.4.

Western has five players averaging double figures as sophomore center Charles Bassey leads the team with 15.7, graduate guard Camron Justice is at 14.0, redshirt junior forward Carson Williams is scoring 13.6, junior guard Taveion Hollingsworth is recording 11.6 and Savage is pitching in 10.7. Addtionally, freshman guard Jordan Rawls is scoring 8.0 off the bench.

“Pretty much just learning how to be a leader,” Rawls said of what he’s learned early into his collegiate career. “Control the flow of the game. When we need to slow the offense down, learn how to do that. Just take control of the pace. I’m very confident in my abilities right now – feel like I can help this team a lot. I’ll just be ready when my name is called.”

Friday’s game will mark the 80thall-time meeting between the two sides, with UofL holding a 40-39 lead in the series. The Hilltoppers and Cardinals last met Dec. 19, 2015 – a 78-56 win for then-No. 16 Louisville.

“Players know teams you’re playing to,” Stansbury said. “They understand who Louisville is and the opportunities that brings in itself. So much of our games are about that mental edge. Physically, there’s some things you can do, but that mental edge. Mentally, those games bring out the best in you.

“You want your kids to approach every game the same way. They all count as one win, they all count as one loss. But naturally there’s some games that bring on a different meaning. Players understand that.”