The Kentucky Wildcats have yet another huge test coming up for them later this afternoon as they are in Chapel Hill, NC to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels. Historically, this is one of those games that fans “have” to see every year and typically the match-ups are pretty even. You can analyze with some reasonable certainty how things will play out, but not this year. Not with this schizzophrenic North Carolina Tar Heels squad. They’ve lost to UAB and Belmont this year but then turned around and beat then #3 Louisville Cardinals and #1 Michigan State Spartans at the Breslin Center. Suffice it to say, this game will be a crapshoot to handicap. Regardless, John Calipari believes this is what his team needs.
At Friday’s press conference before Kentucky left for Saturday’s game at North Carolina, UK coach John Calipari was asked what made UK basketball better than North Carolina.
“I don’t know if it’s better. I mean, I just know they’re two programs that are storied programs that, — I mean think of the history, think of the players that have gone through these. I mean, they’re schools and states that really, you know, take great pride in their program, and I think both programs do it. Look, you have 13 national titles,” Calipari said. “I can’t even imagine how many Final Fours between these two programs. I know you have like the most wins between the two programs.
“So all the sudden — I bet you the NCAA Tournament wins are the most. I mean, you’re talking about two of the storied programs. And you’re able to go in this game and you’re going down there and they want you bad. It’s a white out. They’re honoring Coach (Dean) Smith, which I think is outstanding. They’re pull out all the stops, and you know what? It’s what my team needs. Let’s go see where we are. But I’m excited to coach in it. I mean, this is like…This is why you coach: games like this.”
Now, I’ve never been a proponent of the phrase “statement game” but if there ever was one during what’s occasionally been a turbulent season thus far, this would be it. At least until 12/28/2013 anyway. Julius Randle feels like this is a “statement game.”
Calipari may have a national championship and three trips to the Final Four with three different programs on his resume, but the enormity of Saturday is not lost on him.
“It’s Carolina-Kentucky, what do I gotta do? I need a Knute Rocke speech?” Calipari told the media in Lexington on Friday afternoon. “It’s Carolina-Kentucky. Both programs, the most wins in the history of the game. Think about the players that have gone through there and the players that have gone through here.”
For Kentucky, Saturday represents its first true road test after playing Michigan St. at the United Center on Nov. 12, Providence at Barclays Center on Dec. 1 and Baylor at AT&T Stadium on Dec. 6.
Freshman sensation Julius Randle, a projected top-4 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, called Saturday a ‘statement game’ and that might be putting it mildly.
Kentucky lost to both the Spartans and Bears, and does not yet have a win over a team from a power conference. The Tar Heels, who have curious losses to Belmont at home and UAB on the road, have also taken out then-No. 3 Louisville on Nov. 24 at Mohegan Sun and then-No. 1 Michigan St., 79-65, in East Lansing on Dec. 4.
“Do you expect anything than the best game they’ve played all year?” Calipari said. “We’re gonna face North Carolina at their best, so we have to be at our best, which is our best at this point in time.”
James Young is believing that with this go round against another national contender, the “third time time’s a charm” sentiment.
Kentucky has been in similar games twice this season. The Cats were not ready for prime-time players in a loss to Michigan State in Chicago in early November. Take II saw UK pushed around by an older, more experienced Baylor last weekend.
As a result, Kentucky completed a fall from pre-season No. 1 to outside the top 10.
“That is frustrating,” Randle said. “But it’d be frustrating if we didn’t know why we were losing. But we know why we’re losing. Stuff that’s easy to correct.”
Teammate James Young also hit on the third-time-a-charm theme.
“Yeah, it’s kind of disappointing we didn’t come through with a strong win,” he said of the losses to Michigan State and Baylor. “I think we should be good this time.”