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Kentucky Wildcats seek to boost its NCAA resume against No. 9 North Carolina in Chicago

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky has yet to beat a ranked opponent this season. The Wildcats will get a chance to boost their NCAA Tournament resume against No. 9 North Carolina Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago.

In its last outing against a ranked foe, the No. 19 Wildcats (8-2) failed the test. In the worst setback of the John Calipari era, Kentucky dropped a humiliating 118-84 setback two second-ranked Duke in the Champions Classic in the season opener more than a month ago.

Calipari said unlike some of the team’s fan base, the Wildcats have moved past the shellacking.

John Calipari (Photo by Tammie Brown/Kentucky Today

“I think there are some people in our orbit who have not gotten over that first game yet — they haven’t. We all have,” he said. “I just ask you this question, when we beat Kansas by 50 that year did they ever get over that game? You get over it. You keep playing. You keep going. But, in our orbit, that seems to stand out.”

The loss humbled Calipari and his squad, which entered the season with high hopes following three exhibition victories is the Bahamas last August. The Wildcats appeared to be on track to a complete recovery and won seven straight before suffering an 84-83 overtime loss to Seton Hall nearly two weeks ago at Madison Square Garden.

Since then, the Wildcats have been focusing on all phases of the game and staying the course.

“Cal has been on us all week,” freshman guard Ashton Hagans said Thursday. “We’ve been running a lot, we’ve been working on defense more. You’ve just got to stay humble, go out there and know you’re not the only one out there on the court. You’ve got a team full of guys that love you and that are out there with you trying to fight.”

Unlike the encounter against the Blue Devils, freshman center EJ Montgomery said Kentucky will take advantage of the opportunity.

“It’s a big opportunity for us to go out there and prove we’ve been working hard lately in these last few practices,” he said. “The team’s just going to go out there and fight, play defense, just do all the little things to just help the team win.”

Montgomery said the Wildcats are starting to get a feel for each other and “just getting comfortable” on the court as Kentucky prepares for the Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule that begins with a road encounter at Alabama on Jan. 5 in Tuscaloosa.

“We’ve been working a lot on defense and just going out there and fighting,” he said.

Like Montgomery, Ashton Hagans said the Wildcats will know what to expect when playing a ranked opponent compared to the season opener.

“The coaching staff is preparing us big time for this game and as the season goes on,” he said. “We’ve just got to come along as a team, start talking more, get close together and we’re just going to be better as it goes.”

The freshman guard said the Wildcats, who rebounded from the loss to Seton Hall with a dominating 88-61 victory over Utah last week, are starting to define their roles during going into the final two weeks of the calendar year.

“Me and (Immanuel Quickley), just get the ball, fly up the court, try to find everybody, get everybody an open shot,” he said. “If we’ve got the layup, take it.”


The Wildcats celebrated Christmas as a team Wednesday and handed out gifts and sang Christmas carols for less fortunate families. Calipari said the experience was humbling and rewarding and added, “it’s a big day where your joy comes from you doing for someone else.”

“We had Christmas for a bunch of families,” he said. “They sang. They gave our presents. They met with the families. They served them food. They had conversations (and) they found out things about the families that kind of, you know – it kind of rocks you a little bit. … It was a huge day for our players. I always look forward to the day because I want to see how our guys respond.”

Montgomery also enjoyed the experience.

“It was a great experience going in and feeding families, giving gifts, just giving back,” he said.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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