NCAA BK

Kentucky-North Carolina Preview

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North Carolina's most impressive wins have come against Top 25 opponents.

Kentucky has yet to beat a ranked team heading into its first true road game.

This marquee matchup between two of college basketball's winningest programs takes place Saturday in Chapel Hill, where the No. 18 Tar Heels have captured the last four meetings.

This is a huge test for Kentucky (8-2), which will play in an opponent's building for the first time as it seeks its first win in the Smith Center since a 98-81 victory Dec. 7, 2002. Coach John Calipari is relishing the challenge.

"It's Carolina-Kentucky," Calipari said. "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. You think about, from Frank McGuire, Dean Smith on; from Adolph Rupp on; it's craziness. This is why you coach and this is why you play, to play in games like this."

The Wildcats own the most victories in college basketball with 2,119. North Carolina (6-2) is third with 2,096, with Kansas second at 2,107.

The vital number Saturday could be the No. 11 ranking for Calipari's squad.

That's because the Tar Heels have been at their best against ranked foes, winning 93-84 over then-No. 3 Louisville on Nov. 24 and 79-65 on the road over then-No. 1 Michigan State on Dec. 4. Both of those opponents were unbeaten at the time.

North Carolina, however, has also suffered puzzling losses to unranked Belmont at home and on the road to UAB.

"You still have to bring it against those other teams but it's a lot easier to get up for a game as big as the one we have Saturday or as big as the ones that we've won," said Tar Heels leading scorer Marcus Paige, averaging 18.6 points.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, have gone 0-2 against ranked teams. They lost 78-74 to the then second-ranked Spartans on Nov. 12 and fell 67-62 to then-No. 20 Baylor last Friday.

The Tar Heels remain without P.J. Hairston and senior Leslie McDonald, whose eligibility is still being reviewed by the NCAA. Paige has been forced to shoulder the perimeter load, attempting 51 of the team's 77 3-pointers.

''We understand as a perimeter unit, shooting 3s isn't a strength of ours so we're not jacking up 12 3s, 14 3s a game," Paige said. "We understand our strengths are inside and if we play a lot of defense and get out in the passing lanes, then we can be effective.''

The most intriguing part of this matchup could be the battle between a Tar Heels frontcourt that features Brice Johnson and James Michael McAdoo versus a Wildcats unit led by freshman Julius Randle, who leads the nation with eight double-doubles.

"It's a good challenge, a good challenge for both of us," Randle said. "Each team has a lot of weapons. It's just going to come down to who wants it the most at the end."

Both teams showcased balance in wins leading into this game.

North Carolina placed five players in double digits in an 81-50 rout of UNC Greensboro last Saturday. Kentucky had four players with at least 13 points in Tuesday's 70-55 win over previously unbeaten Boise State.

Tar Heels coach Roy Williams talked about how he recruited many of the Wildcats' stars. He expects what has become a perennially young team for Calipari to gel down the road.

"I think John has proven for several years, many years actually that he can get highly skilled players and get them to focus on the team aspect," Williams said.

North Carolina leads the series, 22-13.

Tagged: North Carolina, Kentucky

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