NCAAW what to watch: Battle of the (ranked) Bluegrass, Ohio State gets shot at No. 1 Stanford

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Louisville forward Bionca Dunham (33) attempts to block the shot of Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard (10) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Louisville, Ky., Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Louisville forward Bionca Dunham and Kentucky's star guard Rhyne Howard will go head-to-head again this Sunday. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

The Louisville Cardinals are the best basketball program in the country this week, according to ESPN’s combined men’s and women’s basketball rankings, while Kentucky is ranked a combined fifth. On the docket for December is the annual Battle of the Bluegrass that will pit those two against each other in the annual rivalry game.

The No. 7 ranked women’s squad is up first, hosting No. 14 Kentucky in a game televised on ESPN. (The current No. 1 ranked men, though that will likely change Monday, will travel to current No. 8 Kentucky on Dec. 28.)

Later in the day will be another key matchup for Ohio State. The Buckeyes will get a shot at No. 1 Stanford, which is coming off a long layoff for finals week, at 8:30 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network.

Here’s what to watch this weekend, with the full schedule and ultimate results found here.

No. 7 Louisville (9-1) at No. 14 Kentucky (10-0)

Sunday at 1 p.m. on ESPN

It’s the Battle of the Bluegrass with both teams again ranked this season. They’ve both been ranked in nine of the last 10 teams (including this one) and the rivalry is incredibly streaky.

That streak currently belongs to Louisville, which won the last three. The Cardinals are after a strong finish to the non-conference schedule following the Oregon victory-Ohio State loss roller coaster.

It was defense that led to the toppling of national champion favorite Oregon State, keeping the Ducks to a 34.2 shooting percentage from the floor (25 of 73). They were 6 of 35 from 3-point range (17.1 percent). That will be Louisville’s calling card. Opponents have shot an average 36.7 percent from the floor and 26.8 percent from 3-point range.

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Dana Evans averages 19.1 points per game, shooting a team-best 49.2 percent from range (30 of 61), and Jazmine Jones averages 13.6 points shooting 57.9 percent overall (55 of 95). Kylee Shook, who led with a double-double against Oregon, has 19 total blocks.

It will be the first real test for Kentucky, which has played a schedule ranked 173rd in the nation.

Rhyne Howard, the 6-foot-2 sophomore guard, is the gas for Kentucky and averages 19.6 points per game, top-25 in the nation. Sabrina Haines averages 11.6 per game. All five regular starters average between 4.2 and 5.6 rebounds per game.

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Ohio State (6-3) at No. 1 Stanford (8-0)

Sunday at 8:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Network

A week after Ohio State knocked off the No. 1 Cardinals of Louisville they’ll get a chance at the No. 2 Cardinal of Stanford. The Buckeyes’ non-conference schedule is intense and if the early conference showings are any indication, it won’t get any easier in Big Ten play this season. Their strength of schedule ranks second in the nation with match-ups so far against ranked squads UConn — an 11-point loss after trailing by two at half — Louisville and now Stanford.

Freshman Rebeka Mikulasikova is the sharp shooter on the squad, going 27 of 48 from the field (56.3 percent), 8 of 15 from 3-point range (53.3) and 10 of 11 from the line. She’s averaging 8.0 points and 3.2 rebounds in 14.2 minutes per game.

Dorka Johasz is averaging team-highs of 12.1 points and 8.0 rebounds. Kierstan Bell is averaging 11.0 points in 21.6 minutes.

The trio had 11, 15 and 14, respectively, in the win against Louisville.

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Stanford has been off since a 67-62 victory against previously tenth-ranked Mississippi State at the Greater Victorian Invitational on Nov. 30. The deep Cardinal squad spent the last two weeks focusing on a myriad of class finals instead. (And enjoying a dog therapy session.)

That means they haven’t yet had the chance to defend their top ranking after Oregon and Baylor, the teams ranked above them to head into the season, lost on the same day and Stanford moved up by “default.” It’s the first top ranking for the school since late 2012.

“It’s not stopping us from working as hard as we are in practice or boosting us,” junior point guard Kiana Williams said, via the Associated Press. “We’re the same team that we were. We also have a sense of urgency because we have a bigger target on our back. We already have a target on our back because we’re Stanford. Now we’re Stanford No. 1.

“We don’t really worry about rankings. It changes. It only matters in March, winning in March — March, April.”

Williams is pacing a Stanford squad that is deep with talent. Head coach Tara VanDerveer is spreading minutes out, playing 13 of 15 players at least 12.4 minutes per game on average. The rotation she’ll rely on will likely be figured out in the coming week-plus with games against Ohio State, Tennessee and Texas.

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The Cardinal keep opponents to an average of 30.7 percent from the field per game and are top-5 in the nation in blocks per game (6.5) and blocking rate (15.5 percent), per Her Hoop Stats.

Pacific (6-2) at No. 10 UCLA (8-0)

Sunday, 5 p.m.

Pacific kept it close to Oregon State and is a team to watch as a potential NCAA tournament buster. Brooklyn McDavid averages a team-high 19.6 points, shooting 64.1 percent (66 of 103).

It’s UCLA’s non-conference home finale and the Bruins have their best start since 2010-11. Four more wins will tie the all-time record of 12-0, set in 1980-81. Coming up is a tough stretch with Georgia and Indiana before hosting USC to kick of Pac-12 play on Dec. 29.

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