The teams will tip off at 6 p.m. CST on Saturday at Rupp Arena.
“The thing I talked to the players about last night is that this is one of those opportunities that you can tell your grandchildren about,” Pearl said. “I asked, ‘Who has ever played at Rupp?’ Only one hand went up and that was Jordon Granger, and I’m not even sure how much he played (four minutes). Nobody else.
“I told them this is the biggest on-campus facility in the country,” Pearl said. “There is not a floor we will play on all year long with as much history and tradition. There is not a building that will be as loud or as full of people that know the game.
“We have an opportunity to represent Auburn and to see if we can find a way to keep them on the perimeter and defend our rim, make shots, and those fans will appreciate the smallest team in the league, and probably one of the smallest teams in the big five conferences going up against the largest team in perhaps the history of college basketball. I am just trying to figure out which 6-10 guy is going to guard K.T. (Harrell) knowing that when one does the other is going to switch off on him.
“You just have to approach it as a real opportunity,” Pearl added. “That is one of the great things about being in the SEC. Why did Antoine Mason come to Auburn? He could have gone to Providence or a couple other places in the east. Part of it is probably that he wanted to play at Rupp (Arena) because of that experience. I can tell you from my own history, when I have taken teams to Madison Square Garden, even though I grew up in Boston and it is hard for me to say this, but it is special to coach in that building. It is not just because of the New York Knicks and their championship. It is because of all the great college basketball that has been played there.
“A few years ago when we went to the preseason NIT and beat VCU and Villanova, it was a big deal for me and our team because it was at Madison Square Garden,” Pearl pointed out. “That is what I want the kids to be excited about. We are going to go up there and compete.”
Kentucky will bring a 26-0 record into Saturday’s game with 13 wins in SEC play. The Tigers are 12-14 overall and 4-9 in the league. The Tigers have won just twice in 45 games played vs. the Wildcats in Lexington.
Commenting on what he told his team about the possibilities of upsetting the Wildcats, Pearl said, “One of the things that I try to do, even though I am that guy that provided false and misleading information to the NCAA, I try to keep it 100 percent real. I try. For better or worse I try to tell you what I think. To be honest with my team, I said I think we can game-plan in such a way that in 40 minutes there isn’t anybody in the league that we can’t beat short of Kentucky.“I don’t want any of my players to feel like I won’t tell them what I really think,” the coach said. “To beat Kentucky would take an extraordinarily super human effort from a standpoint of making shots, controlling tempo, not turning the ball over and no margin for error at the foul line.
“They (Kentucky) are going to have to be off,” Pearl said. “A lot of things have to happen. A lot of things had to happen for us to beat Georgia and LSU. We are working, studying and game-planning. We are trying to figure out ways. It is going to be hard to stop them and it is going to be hard to score because of a lot of things that they are able to do defensively as a team.
“They just build a wall and make you score over them. They rebound 41 percent of their missed shots so even if their first shot defenses, they have a good shot to put it back in.”
The starting lineup for the Wildcats features six-foot-six brothers at the guard spot. Aaron Harrison is averaging 10.8 points with Andrew Harrison scoring 8.4 per contest.
Willie Cauley-Stein is one of the top big men in college basketball this season.
UK’s front line feature seven-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, who is averaging 9.3 points and 6.4 rebounds. Karl-Anthony Towns, a 6-11 foward, is scoring 8.8 points per game while averaging 6.3 rebounds. Six-foot-ten Trey Lyles is contributing 7.4 points and 5.1 rebounds.
UK’s leading scorer comes off the bench. Devin Booker, who has hit a team-high 45 threes in 100 attempts, is averaging 11 points for the Wildcats.
Defense is Kentucky’s strength. The Wildcats are allowing opponents to hit just 33.9 percent of their field goals while making 46.1 of their own attempts.
TV/Radio Coverage: ESPN will telecast the contest wit Mark Jones doing the play-by-play with Sean Farnham the analyst. The Auburn Network radio coverage can be found on channel 91 on both Sirius and XM.
Pearl vs. Coach Cal: Auburn’s first-year head coach has a 3-6 record in games against UK coach John Calipari. The two split four matchups when Pearl was at Tennessee and Calipari at Memphis. Pearl’s Tennessee teams were 1-4 vs. Calipari’s Kentucky squads.
Nasty Weather: UK is asking fans to use “extreme caution” when driving to Rupp Arena and while walking into the facility because of snow and ice in the Lexington area.
Calipari on Auburn: “I have watched the tapes of their games and they play really hard. I have probably watched four, maybe five. I will probably watch one or two more. They play really hard. They are playing a way that they have to win games. (Antoine) Mason, (K.T.) Harrell can beat you by themselves if they get going. They are not afraid to shoot threes.
“Offensively, they are playing pretty loose, driving the ball and playing that way. Defensively, they are just digging in and scrambling. They will trap. Post play, they are not going to let us just throw it to the post. What I saw is they’re playing, although they still do the stuff, the little trick stuff on the out-of-bounds stuff, the sideout and the press--the normal stuff that he has done in the past. I think those kids are giving everything and will have a chance like they have every game they have played. I mean, they haven't gotten buried by anybody.”
Tony Barbee is shown during te 2013-14 season, the final of his four seasons at Auburn.
Barbee Reunion: Former Auburn head coach Tony Barbee will be on the UK bench on Saturday. He is an administrative assistant to Calipari, who said, “He and I talked about it. I said, ‘How are you feeling?’ He said, ‘Just go play the game. Don’t worry about me. I’m good. Tony went into a really hard situation and almost got it turned. When you are almost turned, you can’t afford to have anything go wrong. You can't have a kid that you have to throw off the team--an academic issue or an issue in the community. You have no room for those things. If one or two things happen, then you are teetering on the edge. That’s not just Tony. That’s everybody who takes over a program.
“I have been there,” Calipari said. “When I took over UMass, I got a call two months into the job at 3 o’clock in the morning saying, ‘Two of your kids were arrested.’ What? ‘They were arrested for robbing a house.’ What? They weren’t kids that I recruited, but they were there with burglar tools. What? It just got worse every day and somehow we survived it.
“I've been there where stuff out of your control happens. I wasn't there with them, but it happened. They weren't guys that I recruited, but they were on my team and a part of my program. Tony had some stuff happen. I still think he will get another job and will be great. Hopefully, I don't have to coach against him because every time we played against each other was a war. Every game we played against him was a war whether he was at UTEP or Auburn.”
Pearl On Barbee: “You would have to ask the players. I think in their own way, I want them to be grateful that Coach Barbee brought them to Auburn. Without Coach Barbee seeing something in them, they wouldn’t have an opportunity to be a part of this Auburn family. The five guys that returned really feel good about Auburn and their experience here so I hope that will be their first thought about Coach Barbee.”