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UNC vs. Kentucky Preview

No. 7 North Carolina travels to Las Vegas for its first top-10 matchup of the season with No. 6 Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic. The game tips at 5:45 p.m. EST at the T-Mobile Arena just off the Vegas Strip.

North Carolina (10-1) vs. Kentucky (9-1)
Las Vegas, Nev. – T-Mobile Arena
Saturday, 5:45 p.m. EST
CBS (Brad Nessler, Bill Raftery)


“They’re an unbelievable rebounding team. They’re fast. If you don’t run with them, then you’re giving up layups. They have skilled guys, both inside and outside. They can either play fast or slow and still beat you. They’ve been in close games, which tells you they’re not afraid. 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.” – Kentucky head coach John Calipari

“It could conceivably send a bad message. I think they’d all drop dead if I started into the delay game, so it’d be bad for their five players to still be alive and our five to be dead. So I really don’t think that’s going to happen.” - UNC head coach Roy Williams on if he would consider slowing down tempo vs. the Wildcats

“There’s definitely a little bit of influence to go over there just being from around there and growing up around the program. But I didn’t go to high school in North Carolina so I guess that kind of alleviated some of it. There was also pressure in state in Virginia, too. But in Chapel Hill, there’s definitely a little pressure to go over there.” – UK forward and Chapel Hill native Sacha Killeya-Jones

“I think both of us will be trying to slow down the other team as far as ‘get back.’ You’ll hear him, ‘Get back!’ And you’ll hear me, ‘Get back!’ We’ll both be yelling that probably 100 times a half. They’re fast. We’re fast. It probably will come down to, if you don’t get it quickly, who’s the better execution team?” – Calipari


UNC’s Offense Lacking Without Berry: Joel Berry’s availability is yet to be determined for Saturday’s matchup, although the junior point guard is past the 7-10 day window the school announced when he sprained his left ankle against Radford on Dec. 4. While his defensive presence is critical to UNC’s success, the lack of his offensive prowess has been glaring in the two wins that he’s missed. The Tar Heels are shooting 38.8 percent (29.3 percent from 3) over their last two games. Justin Jackson stepped up against Davidson to lead the scoring attack with 27 points, but no other Tar Heel has topped 13 points in Berry’s absence.

Kentucky Spotlight: The Wildcats enter Saturday’s matchup with a 9-1 record. Their only loss – a 97-92 defeat to UCLA - came at home. John Calipari’s rotation is stocked full of freshmen, per usual, and that youth has not prevented the Wildcats from being impressively efficient on the offensive end. Kentucky ranks eighth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency (117.6), fourth in average possession length (13.5), sixth in turnover percentage (14.6) and 60th in effective field goal percentage (53.6), according to The one area the Wildcats have struggled is beyond the arc, where they are shooting 32.4 percent (254th nationally).

Guards Aplenty: Derrick Rose. John Wall. Brandon Knight. Eric Bledsoe. John Calipari’s long list of elite college point guards is a staple component of his dribble-drive motion offense, and current freshman De’Aaron Fox can be added to the mix. The 6-foot-3 point guard is averaging 15.1 points, 6.9 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game, although he is shooting just 44.1 percent from the floor (14.3 percent from 3). Fox’s attacking style opens up options for his teammates, and fellow freshman guard Malik Monk has benefitted as Kentucky’s primary scoring option. Monk is averaging 19.4 points per game and knocking down 38.5 percent of his 3-pointers. UNC’s ability to defend the dribble-drive will be a key matchup.

Matchup to Watch: Both of these teams like to get up and down the floor, which leads to an abundance of possessions. Both teams are also highly effective on the offensive glass, so whichever team can minimize second-chance scoring opportunities will have the upper hand. UNC leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (43.1), while Kentucky ranks 10th (39.6). UNC’s Kennedy Meeks (16.7, 14th) and Tony Bradley (22.6, 1st) are two of the top offensive rebounders in the country, according to Kentucky counters with four players boasting offensive rebounding percentages in double figures, led by freshman Bam Adebayo (14.7, 32nd).

Stat of Note: This is the 13th meeting in which both teams have been ranked in the top-10. UNC is 8-4 in those games.

Last Meeting: Kentucky defeated UNC, 84-70, at Rupp Arena on Dec. 13, 2014. Brice Johnson led the Tar Heels with 15 points and Marcus Paige added 14. The Wildcats shot 57.1 percent after halftime compared to UNC’s 37.5 percent.

Series History: UNC leads the all-time series, 23-14, and has won seven of the last 11. The Tar Heels are 11-4 against the Wildcats at neutral sites.

Projected UNC Starters:
2 Joel Berry (6-0, 195, Jr.) – 14.8 ppg, 4.7 apg
3 Kennedy Meeks (6-10, 260, Sr.) - 12.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg
4 Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 242, Sr.) - 12.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg
44 Justin Jackson (6-8, 210, Jr.) – 15.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg
24 Kenny Williams (6-4, 180, So.) - 7.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg

Projected Kentucky Starters:
5 Malik Monk (6-3, 200, Fr.) – 19.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg
12 Isaiah Briscoe (6-3, 210, So.) – 16.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg
0 De’Aaron Fox (6-3, 187, Fr.) - 15.1 ppg, 6.9 apg
3 Edrice Adebayo (6-10, 260, Fr.) – 12.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg
35 Derek Willis (6-9, 228, Sr.) – 7.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg

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