Already off to an impressive start in 2020-21, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers hope to take another major step in the right direction on Tuesday when they battle in-state rival Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center.
Tipoff is set for 5 p.m.
WKU (2-1) won two of three games against stout competition as it opened the season at the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, S.D. — posting victories over Northern Iowa (93-87) and Memphis (75-69), before falling to then-No. 15 West Virginia (70-64) in the finals.
“We’re excited to play Louisville,” Western head coach Rick Stansbury said. “They’re a very good team, one of the best in the country, and they are big, powerful, and strong throughout their lineup — they are very solid at the defensive end.
“Carlik Jones is very good for them. He’s clever with the basketball, never gets sped up, and has a great pace about him. He’s a really good player and has probably been the key to their team, so far.”
Fielding one of their deepest teams in many years, the Hilltoppers are led by 6-foot-2 senior guard Taveion Hollingsworth (19 ppg) and 6-11, 235-pound junior center Charles Bassey (15.7 ppg, 10 rpg, 3.7 bpg).
Hollingsworth suffered a sprained left thumb and a hyperextended right elbow on Friday against West Virginia, and his availability is listed as a “game-time decision” by Stansbury.
Also projected to start against U of L will be 6-6 senior power forward Carson Williams (9.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg), 6-6 senior swingman Josh Anderson (7.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg), and 6-foot senior point guard Kenny Cooper (3.3 ppg).
First off the bench will be 6-5 junior shooting guard Luke Frampton (7.7 ppg), 6-1 freshman guard Dayvion McKnight (8.3 ppg), 6-1 sophomore combo guard Jordan Rawls (3.3 ppg), and 6-6 junior forward Kevin Osawe (1.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg).
Western enters the contest shooting 45% from the floor, including 31% from 3-point range. The Hilltoppers have made hay at the foul line, making 52-of-63 shots for 83%.
Louisville (3-0) is a young team off to a solid start, with early-season home victories over Evansville (79-44), Seton Hall (71-70), and Prairie View A&M (86-64).
Cardinals head coach Chris Mack expects a tough test against the Hilltoppers.
“We have an incredible opponent with a lot of talent coming in here,” Mack said of Western. “They’re a good team with a lot of playmakers, they’ve picked up a shooter from Davidson (Frampton), and coach Stansbury does a really good job of changing defenses.
“Also, of course, we’re going to have to contend with one of the best frontcourt players in the country in Charles Bassey — he’s really, really good.”
Projected starters for the banged-up Cardinals include 6-2 graduate guard Jones (17 ppg, 7.3 rpg), 6-8 freshman center Jae’Lynn Withers (13 ppg, 6.7 rpg), 6-8 sophomore forward Quinn Slazinski (9 ppg, 5.7 rpg), 6-5 sophomore guard David Johnson (10.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg), and 6-5 freshman forward Dre Davis (9.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg).
Off the bench, U of L features 6-8 freshman forward JJ Traynor (6.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg), who played a key role late in the win over Seton Hall.
The Cards are shooting 54% from the field, but only 30% from distance, and are making 75% of their free throws. Through three games, Louisville has outrebounded their foes by an average of 10 per contest.
Louisville has eight straight against Western in a series that dates back to 1926. WKU’s most recent conquest of the Cards came on Nov. 30, 2008, when the Hilltoppers won 68-54 in Nashville, Tenn.