LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) With No. 8 Kentucky and unranked archrival Louisville on different paths, there's a bit more intrigue to the annual battle for Bluegrass State women's basketball supremacy.
The Wildcats (7-0) have managed to crack the top 10 despite being short-handed with a rash of departures. Since Oct. 15, four players are no longer with the team, including junior forward Kyvin Goodin-Rogers - who left last week.
The revamped Cardinals (3-4) have some growing pains, but appear to be turning the corner with back-to-back wins, one over 25th-ranked Michigan State.
Talk of improving has muted noise about statewide bragging rights in Thursday night's showdown at 23,000-seat Rupp Arena - though the significance of the rivalry is never lost on basketball fans in this state.
''It's a great opportunity for our team to see where we are,'' said Wildcats coach Matthew Mitchell, whose team seeks its fifth straight series victory. Louisville ''is explosive on offense, tenacious on defense and it's the stoutest test we've had so far.''
Cardinals coach Jeff Walz views the game as one of many in a long season for his young team, but noted, ''We understand the importance and it should be a fun game.''
For Kentucky to be unbeaten despite preseason decisions to transfer by junior guard and leading rebounder Linnae Harper, freshman guard Morgan Rich after the dismissal of Oregon transfer Chrishae Rowe is an indication of the resolve the team has.
The Wildcats enter the contest ranked fourth nationally in scoring at 86.1 points per game and sixth in 3-point percentage (45.1). That performance wasn't expected with six underclassmen and JUCO transfer Evelyn Akhator among its nine eligible players.
But the youngsters and newcomers have quickly complemented veteran guards Makayla Epps (16.2 points) and Janee Thompson (15.0) to give Kentucky a starting lineup averaging in double figures.
''We just worked really hard at honing our individual skills, and it's showing up in the game in the way we've been able to shoot the ball,'' said Thompson, who has made nearly 52 percent of her long-range shots and keyed the Wildcats' past three wins over the Cardinals.
Kentucky remains wary of Louisville, which has won three of five since an 0-2 start. Highly touted freshman guard Asia Durr scored a career-best 20 points at Michigan State and 10 on Saturday against Valparaiso, an impressive stretch after missing several games with a groin injury.
Walz is encouraged by the offensive dimension Durr offers the Cardinals, who have just two upperclassmen: juniors Cortnee Walton and Briahanna Jackson, a UCF transfer. But the coach is approaching this game as part of a process toward competing in the Atlantic Coast Conference and beyond.
''Win or lose, it doesn't make your year,'' he said, adding that his young squad is still adjusting to one another after the first seven games of the season.
But Louisville certainly wouldn't mind handing Kentucky its first loss of the season, and pull its record to .500 along the way.
And after seeing the Cardinals blow double-digit leads against Kentucky the past three years, Walton would like to see Louisville close the deal.
''We've been close to beating them and (the Wildcats) would come and punch us in the mouth,'' the Louisville upperclassman said. ''This team is young and still learning, but we're close to turning the corner. What matters is the `W.'''