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Calipari says nothing will come easy for Cats in Top 10 matchup against Tar Heels

By Keith Taylor
KyForward senior sports writer

The stage doesn’t get any bigger in December.

Two of the winningest programs in college basketball — Kentucky and North Carolina — will meet Saturday in the third edition of the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas.

UK guard Isaiah Briscoe and the Wildcats will take on North Carolina Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic Saturday in Las Vegas (Tammie Brown Photo)

UK guard Isaiah Briscoe and the Wildcats will take on North Carolina Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas (Tammie Brown Photo)

The sixth-ranked Wildcats (9-1) have won four of the past six games between the two college powerhouses, including an 84-70 rout of the Tar Heels last year at Rupp Arena.

Like Kentucky, the No. 7 Tar Heels (10-1) are off to a fast start, but had to rally in their last outing to hold off Tennessee, escaping with a 73-71 triumph last Sunday in Chapel Hill.

“They’ve been in close games, which tells you they’re not afraid,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said earlier this week. “Tennessee had a chance to beat them and they come back and win the game. They’re not going to get rattled. They’re a veteran team. Roy (Williams) is a Hall of Famer. It’ll be a hard game for us.”

In Kentucky last outing against a ranked foe, the Wildcats dropped a 97-92 decision to second-ranked UCLA, a setback that bounced the Wildcats from the top ranking. Since then, Kentucky has won two straight, including a 96-73 win over Hofstra last weekend in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“It’s a process,” Calipari said. “We’ve had teams here lose nine and 10 games and get to the NCAA championship game – the NCAA final game. But, I didn’t remember the grind of that. I can just tell you that it’s tough because every game that we play is a big game for somebody. It needs to be a big game for us, and it’s hard because these kids aren’t machines. They’re not computers. It’s hard.”

Read More at Keith's Blog

Read More at Keith’s Blog: Out of the Blue

Calipari said Kentucky’s toughest challenge will be keeping North Carolina off the glass and staying a step ahead of the Tar Heels in what he expects to be an up-and-down encounter.

“They’re big, physical and go to the glass,” the Kentucky coach said. “I don’t believe a team can be good at everything. You’re not. As a coach, you decide what your strengths are and let’s become really good at those things and hide the things that we don’t do well. Their strength is that they can really get out and fly. Their other strength is that they’re really good in the post. They’re big and they fight for position.”

To counter North Carolina’s size and experience underneath the rim, Calipari plans to “try everything” to keep the Tar Heels off balance in the post.

“I may play four guards,” he said. “Mychal Mulder was like a four at (junior college). So I could put he, Isaiah Briscoe, two guards and a big guy. Maybe we’d be better that way. Maybe they have to change. I mean, we’ll try stuff, and that’s the greatest thing about not having to go game to game.”

Kentucky freshman forward Bam Adebayo agreed and added it will take teamwork to win the battle of the boards.

“You’ve just got to play hard and play together,” he said. “The matchup shouldn’t matter.”

In addition to rebounding, Calipari said the determining factor could simply come down to execution.

“They’ve got juniors and seniors and older players and we’re playing freshmen,” he said. “So, you tell me. So we’re gonna have to figure out how to be efficient. The game we lost, it was one-on-one basketball. The synergy you need – alright, they stopped us; now we gotta play. Now we gotta create for each other. We weren’t ready for that. Hopefully we’re a little more ready this time.”

Gametracker: Kentucky vs. North Carolina, 5:45 p.m. Saturday at Las Vegas. TV/Radio: CBS (Channel 27), 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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