North Carolina (6-2) vs. Kentucky (8-2)
Chapel Hill, N.C. -- Dean E. Smith Center
Saturday, 5:15 p.m.
ESPN (Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas)
“It’s a good challenge, a good challenge for both of us. Each team has a lot of weapons. It’s just going to come down to who wants it the most at the end. So it’ll be a good challenge for both clubs though.” – UK forward Julius Randle
“Look, their frontline players are as good as any we’ll play and that’s what’s giving us trouble. Their guard play is solid, I mean they don’t shoot it well but neither do we. (Marcus Paige) will shoot it. Do you expect anything other than the best game they’ve played all year? We’re going to face North Carolina at their best. We have to be at our best, which is our best at this point in time, be as good as we can be for December whatever.” – UK head coach John Calipari
“I think John has proven for many years that he can get highly skilled players and get them to focus on the team aspect of it.” – UNC head coach Roy Williams on the development of UK’s freshman class
Season to Date: Kentucky enters Saturday’s contest with an 8-2 record. The Wildcats are 0-2 on the season against ranked opponents. On Nov. 12, Michigan State led by as many as 13 in the second half before John Calipari’s squad rallied to cut the deficit to two with 42 seconds left. The Spartans prevailed with a 78-74 victory. On Dec. 6, No. 20 Baylor overcame a nine-point deficit midway through the second half before closing on a 26-12 run.
Youth Served: Calipari’s eight-man freshman class includes six McDonald’s All-Americans, including arguably the top players in the country at four different positions – power forward Julius Randle, shooting guard Andrew Harrison, point guard Aaron Harrison and center Dakari Johnson. Small forward James Young and forward Marcus Lee were also top-15 recruits. The freshmen have accounted for 44 of UK’s 50 starts on the season. Kentucky started five freshmen against Robert Morris, which marked the first time in school history the starting lineup was comprised of all first-year players.
Man in the Middle: Despite being a freshman, Randle plays a pro game on the interior. The 6-foot-9, 250-pounder is averaging 17.8 points on 53.8 percent shooting to go along with 12.0 rebounds, including 4.4 offensive boards per game. He scored 27 points on 9-of-14 shooting and grabbed 13 boards in Kentucky’s loss to Michigan State.
Living Off Defense: It would make sense for a team dominated by freshmen to struggle early on the defensive end, but that hasn’t been the case for the Wildcats. Kentucky ranks 10th nationally in field goal percentage defense (36.3) and 100th in 3-point field goal percentage defense (31.1). The Wildcats’ work on the glass (plus-12.4 rebounding margin, 6th nationally) and ability to block shots (see below) has limited easy looks as well as second-chance opportunities.
Dropping the Rock: Where the Wildcats have struggled this season is in forcing turnovers and taking care of the ball. Kentucky has committed more turnovers (132) than it has dished out assists (129). Its turnover margin (minus-2.2) ranks 244th nationally.
Block Party: Sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein has blocked 43 shots through 10 games, including 28 in his last four outings. He ranks third nationally in total blocks, trailing Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski and St. John’s Chris Obekpa. UNC’s entire roster, by contrast, has 36 through eight games. Kentucky ranks seventh nationally in blocked shots per game at 7.6.
Last Meeting: The Wildcats held off the Tar Heels, 73-72, at Rupp Arena on Dec. 3, 2011. Kentucky center Anthony Davis blocked John Henson’s potential game-winning jump shot in the final seconds to secure the victory. Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes both scored 14 points for UNC, which lost despite shooting 11-of-18 from 3-point range.
Series History: UNC leads the all-time series with Kentucky, 22-13. The Tar Heels have won six of the last nine meetings.
5 Andrew Harrison (6-6, 215, Fr.) - 10.3 ppg, 3.5 apg
2 Aaron Harrison (6-6, 218, Fr.) - 13.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg
1 James Young (6-6, 215, Fr.) - 13.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg
30 Julius Randle (6-9, 250, Fr.) - 17.8 ppg, 12.0 rpg
15 Willie Cauley-Stein (7-0, 244, So.) - 9.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 4.3 bpg
22 Alex Poythress (6-8, 239, So.) - 4.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg
44 Dakari Johnson (7-0, 265, Fr.) - 4.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg
0 Marcus Lee (6-9, 215, Fr.) - 4.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg
Roster & Bios
(Photos courtesy USA Today Sports)