UK Basketball: Kentucky is set for showdown with No. 5 North Carolina
Kentucky¿s Darius Miller scored nine points Thursday, and said the Wildcats are ready for a tough test with North Carolina on Saturday. (Clay Jackson)
“I think all of us are pretty excited to go up against this team. We know they are going to be ready and we know if we don’t come out ready, they will embarrass us. Everybody knows that. It don’t take too much talking to play in these kind of games,” said Miller after No. 1 UK beat St. John’s 81-59 Thursday.
“It is going to a high intensity game. They are going to play tough. They are extremely talented, just like they were last year. We are going to have to play the whole 40 minutes or it will be a very tough game for us. We can’t get behind or if we do, it will be tough to fight back.”
North Carolina (6-1) beat visiting UK¿last season before falling to the Wildcats in the Elite Eight.
Kentucky coach John Calipari planned to watch his team’s win over St. John’s and then the North Carolina games from last year before watching “two or three other tapes” of the Tar Heels to prepare Saturday’s game. However, he watched enough of North Carolina’s loss to UNLV Saturday and win over Wisconsin Wednesday to be impressed.
“I have no idea how we are going to play them yet. You know, they pretty much play how they play. We pretty much play like we play. I doubt if either one of us are going to try to hold the ball,” Calipari said Thursday night. “I mean, it should be an up¿and¿down game I imagine. You let them get in too much of an up¿and¿down game, you'll get killed. So you've got to make it so that they are not getting just pass¿ahead layups.
“Let me just tell you, what I saw, and the little bit I saw last night, they are really good. I know UNLV made 13 3’s, which is why they won the game, and they really fought like heck and did a pretty good job. But they came back against a Wisconsin team that's even more physical and tougher than the UNLV team, and really did a pretty good job on them. So I think they bounced back and recovered from that. They are a good team. They are really good.”
Kentucky sophomore Terrence Jones struggled in his first game against the Tar Heels last year and knows plenty about Carolina’s talent.
“I have known a lot of their guys since sophomore year, freshman year in high school. I¿know they are going to play hard and run the court hard. (Guard) Kendall (Marshall) is going to try and make plays for them,” Jones said. “Honestly you try to look forward to every game, especially these two games back to back like this. You knew St. John’s would compete and then playing a top five team in North Carolina that was No. 1 just a week ago. They have No. 1 talent. I am real excited.”
Freshman Anthony Davis, who had eight blocked shots Thursday along with 15 points and 15 rebounds, knows Carolina’s John Henson (14.7 points, 10.9 rebounds per game) and Tyler Zeller (13.3 points, 7.1 rebounds) will be a formidable one-two punch inside for the Tar Heels.
“I want to go out here and play against (John) Henson and (Tyler) Zeller. Henson is like me. He can block shots and rebound. I just want to do the best I can do to help my team win,” Davis said. “They are a good basketball team. We have to come out here and play with a lot of intensity. It will be a tough game.
“A lot of people say that Henson and I¿play alike, so I am looking forward to that matchup as well.¿I¿also know Zeller has a lot of post moves.”
Jones had 26 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots Thursday, but he knows scoring will be more difficult Saturday.
“They’re big in the paint just like we are. So it should be really competitive for me and Anthony down low,” Jones said. “This is a different team. We played a whole different way (last year). But I believe in Doron (Lamb) and Darius, Marquis (Teague) and myself on making 3’s when we’re wide open, and Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist).
“I think this is more of a driving team than last year. Just the different point guards we have and the offense we run. I just think it’s going to be a different game. They have a different team the way they play, too.”
ESPN¿analyst Dick Vitale indicated during Thursday’s UK game he was working that he doubted if the Wildcats could throw as many lobs to Davis and Jones for dunks against North Carolina as they have against other teams.
“I think we can do it. Nothing is impossible. We just have to get in the lanes like we have been doing and occupy the big men.¿If the big man steps up, then the lob will be there. If they don’t step up, it should be a layup,” Davis said.
Lamb, who had 16 points and three assists Thursday, doesn’t see any team shutting down the lob passes.
“They will work. I think we can do it no matter who we play if we just go past our guy and the big man collapses, we can lob it. It don’t really matter who we play,” Lamb said.
The Tar Heels are led by sophomore Harrison Barnes, who had 20 points against Wisconsin despite being hindered by an ankle injury suffered against UNLV. Henson had 17 rebounds and five blocks against Wisconsin. However, the Tar Heels will be without freshman guard P.J Hairston, who injured his wrist against Wisconsin.
“A lot of people have been saying they can’t wait for the game and wishing they were No. 1 still so we could beat them,” Davis said. “It is just a real hyped game and can’t wait to play.”
“Saturday’s game will be real fun for both teams. It will be a packed crowd,” Lamb said. “They were tough last year. Going to the basket was hard. You have to be ready to take a lot of floaters and take contact when they come at you.
“It will be as crazy as I have ever saw it (in Rupp Arena). Everybody I¿know is going to come and support us and we are going to try and win the game for everybody. I like big games. We all do. We are going out there to prove we are the No. 1 team in the country. It’s no big deal to us being No. 1 now. We are just worrying about winning every game that we have got.”
Jones said the Wildcats learned last year not to take anything for granted.
“I’ve just been going game-by-game just because how many games we lost last year. We’ve learned from that experience not to look over teams or think about what might happen in the future,” the Kentucky sophomore forward said. “I¿know the fans are excited for it and both teams are going to play hard. But at the end of the day we are just preparing for March. Every game is preparing us to get better each day and that includes this game.”