After a flip-flop in the CBS Sports Classic matchups coming on Saturday, Kentucky is now faced with taking on No. 22 North Carolina. The Cats were originally scheduled to take on UCLA for the annual event, but due to similar Covid-19 protocols, they now face a tough, physical Tar Heel squad.
When asked yesterday about the scheduling change, UK Head Coach John Calipari said each team is “in the same boat” with having to prepare differently, and that either UNC or UCLA would be a tough matchup.
“Either game was going to be hard. I mean, UCLA is a terrific team. They play tough, and so is North Carolina,” Calipari said. “Both of them are top-20 teams. Either one, it didn’t matter, it was going to be a hard game.”
North Carolina’s 4-2 record can be a little deceiving considering the schedule they have played thus far, as their two losses were 69-67 to then No. 15 Texas in the Maui Invitational and 93-80 at No. 3 Iowa. What is specifically daunting about them is their resounding frontcourt size. Led by Preseason ACC Player of the Year Garrison Brooks, they rank seventh in the country in offensive rebounds per game (16.2) and fifth in the nation in overall rebounds per game (46.7) (first in ACC in both). Against Iowa, the Tar Heels held maybe the best player in the country Luka Garza to 16 points on 6-20 shooting.
Even offensively, Carolina’s big guys are efficient. Senior forward Garrison Brooks leads the team in scoring (11.8 points per game), while sophomore Armando Bacot leads the ACC in FG% (.767) and freshman Day’Ron Sharpe ranks fourth (.613).
UK coach John Calipari said yesterday that the team has to fight inside and on the boards just to give themselves a chance against UNC.
“The teams that they’ve played, they’re outrebounding them by 18, and it’s literally, you know, you’re going to have to fight. You’re going to have to go body-to-body,” he said. “Guards are going to have to stick their nose in. Our guards are going to have to get 15 rebounds, 10 rebounds. They have to (in order) to give yourselves a chance.”
Kentucky now stands at 1-4 and in desperate need of a win following the disappointing 64-63 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, but right now the team is struggling just to have enough players to scrimmage in practice due to different injuries. Calipari said the guys practicing have seen progress, but they need everybody to get up and down the court in order to be ready against what is traditionally a fast-paced Tar Heel squad.
“We’ve gotten a lot done, but we’ve got to go up and down a little bit to get the flow of the game a little bit,” he said. “Carolina kind of plays that, whether you make it or miss, they’re flying it up your back, and so you kind of have to get used to some of that kind of stuff. It’s hard on a quick turn, but it’s hard for all of us.”
Going up against a physical Tar Heel team, it would seem Kentucky’s most critical player to have would be Wake Forest transfer Oliver Sarr. The 7-foot center scored a team-high 22 points on 11/16 shooting last weekend against Notre Dame, and his experience in the ACC could prove crucial in the game.
In the end, however, Kentucky just needs a win, and they will have to scratch and claw for every ball to get a victory.