Lexington, KY – Two of the most storied programs in college ranked Kentucky ranked North Carolina Tar Heels at Rupp Arena.
Roy Williams' Tar Heels began the season as the top team in the land and certainly looked the part until last week's 90-80 loss to UNLV in the Las Vegas Invitational. North Carolina was able to put some distance between itself and that lone loss by topping ninth-ranked Wisconsin earlier this week, 60-57 as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
John Calipari has another young, but extremely gifted squad in Lexington. The Wildcats have jumped out to a 7-0 start to the year, posting all seven victories by double figures, including an 81-59 whipping of St. John's in the BigEast/SEC Challenge on Thursday.
North Carolina is one of the few teams that has the upper hand in terms of series history with Kentucky, as the Tar Heels have won 22 of the 34 previous meetings. These two teams faced off in last year's Elite Eight, as Kentucky upset North Carolina en route to its 14th Final Four appearance. North Carolina won a matchup in Chapel Hill earlier in the year.
Coming off a stunning loss to the Runnin' Rebels, the Tar Heels needed a big win and got it against the Badgers on Wednesday night. UNC scored a season-low 60 points and was held to a modest .422 shooting effort, but that didn't stop All-American candidate Harrison Barnes from dominating play with a game-high 20 points. Tyler Zeller added 12 points to the cause, while John Henson added eight points and a whopping 17 rebounds. It has been this trio of standout frontcourt players that has fueled UNC's success this season. Barnes leads the way with 17.7 ppg. Henson has owned the paint with a double-double of 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, while Zeller adds 13.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per outing. The starting backcourt features Dexter Strickland (8.4 ppg) and Kendall Marshall, who may not be much of a scorer (4.7 ppg), but may be the nation's best facilitator, dishing out 10.3 assists per game.
The Wildcats made light work of the Red Storm this week thanks to a stellar defensive effort. Kentucky limited St. John's to just 31.7 percent shooting, while forcing 19 turnovers. Sophomore Terrance Jones led the way at the offensive end with 26 points. Fellow sophomore Doron Lamb poured in 16 points, while freshman Anthony Davis posted a double-double of 15 points and 15 rebounds, adding eight blocks to his impressive stat line. UK has gotten the job done at both ends of the floor, boasting a +28.9 scoring margin as a result. Offensively, there is plenty of firepower at 83.7 ppg. Five players are averaging double figures, led by Jones' 15.6 ppg. Lamb is a close second at 14.4 ppg, followed by Davis (13.0 ppg), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (11.4 ppg) and Marquis Teague (10.7 ppg). Davis has been a force inside, converting almost 70 percent of his shots, while pacing the team in rebounding (9.1 rpg) and blocked shots (34).