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Friday / August 19.
  • Calipari, Kentucky Understand Meaning of Playing at North Carolina

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    john-calipariBy JOSH NEWMAN

    Special to ZAGSBLOG

    John Calipari gets it.

    The University of Kentucky head coach knows full well what it means to take his team into the University of North Carolina’s Smith Center and play the Tar Heels on Saturday (5:15 p.m., ESPN).

    It’s a nationally-televised matchup between two of college basketball’s blue bloods. No. 11 Kentucky and No. 18 North Carolina own the most wins and the third-most wins, respectively, in the history of college basketball and the Wildcats are college basketball’s answer to The Beatles right now. If any more hype needed to be added, Carolina will honor the building’s namesake, legendary former head coach Dean Smith, on Saturday.

    Calipari may have a national championship and three trips to the Final Four with three different programs on his resume, but the enormity of Saturday is not lost on him.

    “It’s Carolina-Kentucky, what do I gotta do? I need a Knute Rocke speech?” Calipari told the media in Lexington on Friday afternoon. “It’s Carolina-Kentucky. 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.”

    For Kentucky, Saturday represents its first true road test after playing Michigan St. at the United Center on Nov. 12, Providence at Barclays Center on Dec. 1 and Baylor at AT&T Stadium on Dec. 6.

    Freshman sensation Julius Randle, a projected top-4 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, called Saturday a ‘statement game’ and that might be putting it mildly.

    Kentucky lost to both the Spartans and Bears, and does not yet have a win over a team from a power conference. The Tar Heels, who have curious losses to Belmont at home and UAB on the road, have also taken out then-No. 3 Louisville on Nov. 24 at Mohegan Sun and then-No. 1 Michigan St., 79-65, in East Lansing on Dec. 4.

    “Do you expect anything than the best game they’ve played all year?” Calipari said. “We’re gonna face North Carolina at their best, so we have to be at our best, which is our best at this point in time.”

    UNC leads the all-time series against Kentucky, 22-13, but the Wildcats have won three of the last four. The last time they met in 2011, Wildcats freshman Anthony Davis blocked John Henson’s shot in the final seconds for a 73-72 win. Kentucky finished 38-2 that season, won the national title and Davis was the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft by the New Orleans Hornets.

    “I mean, think of the history,” Calipari said. “They’re schools and states that really, you know, take great pride in their program, and I think both programs do it. You’re talking about two of the storied programs, and you’re going down there and they want you bad. It’s a white-out. They’re honoring Coach (Dean) Smith, which I think is outstanding. They’re pulingl out all the stops, and you know what? It’s what my team needs.”

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