Lexington, Ky. - Rupp Arena
Noon, CBS (Craig Bolerjack, Billy Packer)
"It don't get no bigger than Kentucky-North Carolina." -- Ramel Bradley
"In last year['s game at UNC], I was a freshman playing in something like my fifth game in college. The atmosphere is something I couldn't even describe. It was so loud there. I couldn't hear anything. It was something else to go down there so early in my career and be part of that. On Saturday they are going to go through a little of what I went through last year. Turnabout is fair play." -- Rajon Rondo
Season To Date: The Wildcats enter Saturday's game with a 5-1 record, with four of those wins coming against light opponents (South Dakota State, Lipscomb, Liberty and High Point). Their two tough games, against ranked opponents, were in the Guardians Classic two weeks ago. UK lost to then-No. 19 Iowa, 67-63, in a close, back-and-forth contest. In the end, the 'Cats' 17 turnovers and 33.3 percent shooting from the floor did them in. The following night, however, UK bounced back to knock off then-No. 13 West Virginia, thanks to a 20-0 run early in the first half and a defensive effort that held WVU to 10-of-37 (27%) on three-pointers. But head coach Tubby Smith isn't satisfied with his team's season to date. In fact, he was disgusted with Tuesday's first-half performance against High Point, which saw UK trailing, 24-21, mid-way through the half. "I can't stand to watch it," Smith said. "I just can't sit over there and watch it."
Rondo The Rebounder: Sophomore Rajon Rondo is one of the nation's top point guards. He's a terrific defender, has nearly a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and can drive to the hoop at will. But what makes him unique is his rebounding ability. How many point guards are averaging 10.8 boards per game? That answer is easy - none. In fact, Rondo is 7th in the nation in total rebounds for all players. And, yes, if Kentucky had a better frontline they'd need less glass work from Rondo, but that doesn't change the fact that he's a remarkable rebounder. "I just know that we lost a lot of rebounding from last season, so I've just made an effort to get in there and help whenever I can," Rondo said. "I'm very capable of rebounding. I know big men are supposed to lead the team in rebounding, but it doesn't always work out like that."
Three For All: The three-point shot has been a major part of the UK offense this season. The Wildcats have attempted 21.5 three-point attempts per game, and are connecting as a team at an impressive 41.1 percent clip. Even more impressive is their combined 45.6 percent three-point shooting in the two games against ranked teams. And, even more impressive than that is that the three-guard starting lineup of Rondo, Patrick Sparks and Ravi Moss has shot 30-of-60 on threes (50%). While Rondo and Moss will only look for threes a couple times per game, Sparks is the team's star sharpshooter. The senior is at 15-of-30 thus far on threes this season, including 7-of-11 en route to 25 points against West Virginia.
Skyscrapers: Despite a roster that includes three seven-footers, as well as a 6-10 center, the Wildcats start a small lineup and have lacked consistent post depth. Rekalin Sims (10.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg), a 6-8, 200-pound JuCo transfer, quickly earned a starting spot in the middle and scored 22 points in his first start against Iowa. But after that? Sheray Thomas (6-7, 230) has been solid at times, providing 4.7 points and 4.2 boards off the bench, and UK will need more from him on a nightly basis in order to stay ranked in the Top 10. As for the three seven-footers, junior Shagari Alleyne was benched Tuesday for academic problems and may play Saturday (though he's averaging just 1.8 pts and 2.8 reb in 9.8 minutes/game), freshman Jared Carter isn't ready yet and junior Lukasz Obrzut is coming off his one good performance of the season Tuesday against High Point. And while Obrzut posted career-highs in the game, it was just nine points and four rebounds. "One night is not a career," coach Tubby Smith said. "But it was a positive and something we can build on." The other post player on the roster is sophomore Randolph Morris, a high school all-American who has been ruled ineligible by the NCAA for this season, as a result of his offseason involvement with an agent while he tested the NBA waters.
MIA: In addition to Morris, one other Wildcat will not be on the floor Saturday. Sophomore shooting guard Joe Crawford has missed the last two games -- and will miss this one -- as a result of a bone bruise on his knee and a hip pointer This is just the latest hurdle for the promising recruit who has struggled in Lexington. He nearly transferred mid-season a year ago, because of a lack of playing time (though he saw 11.2 minutes per game). And, as was the case a season ago, his shooting numbers have been disappointing (36.1% FG and 26.5% 3pt last season and 29.6% FG this season).
Series History: These are the two winningest programs in the history of college basketball. Kentucky has a record of 1,909-584-1 in its 103rd season, while Carolina is right behind the Wildcats, at 1,863-681 in its 96th season. Carolina holds the all-time head-to-head series lead, 17-10, though Kentucky has beaten UNC four of the last five years. This season marks the sixth and final game of a six-year series between the two schools. In last season's matchup, the Tar Heels jumped out to a 24-6 lead and coasted to a 91-78 win. Rashad McCants led all scorers with 28 points, while Sean May added 19 rebounds. When was Carolina's last win at Kentucky? Dec. 13, 1966.
Background Location: Lexington, Ky. Enrollment: 26,545 Conference: SEC Nickname: Wildcats Colors: Blue & White Head Coach: Tubby Smith Record at UK: 224-59
Projected Starters: 4 Rajon Rondo (6-1, 171, So.) – 13.8 ppg, 5.8 apg, 10.8 rpg 22 Patrick Sparks (6-0, 180, Sr.) – 10.8 ppg, 3.2 apg 2 Ravi Moss (6-2, 190, Sr.) - 6.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg 13 Bobby Perry (6-6, 219, Jr.) – 8.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg 42 Rekalin Sims (6-8, 200, Jr.) - 10.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg Key Reserves: 3 Ramel Bradley (6-1, 179, So.) – 7.3 ppg, 1.7 apg 1 Brandon Stockton (5-9, 167, Sr.) – 5.5 ppg 23 Sheray Thomas (6-7, 230, Jr.) – 4.7 ppg, 4.2 apg 10 Lukasz Obrzut (7-0, 270, Jr.) – 3.2 ppg, 1.6 apg
Sims ... Rondo
Perry ... Thomas
Crawford ... Sparks