Lexington, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - A marquee showdown is on tap for Friday night at Rupp Arena, as the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats play host to the sixth-ranked Texas Longhorns as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Texas came into the season with high expectations as the No. 10 team in the preseason poll and has lived up to the hype with seven straight wins to open the campaign, most notably over California in the 2K Classic championship (71-55) and Connecticut on the road (55-54). The Longhorns most recently dismissed Texas-Arlington on Tuesday, 63-53.
No. 1 Kentucky has been the nation's most dominant team during the first month of the season. It has won all seven of its games by at least 19 points, which includes a 72-40 thrashing of nationally-ranked Kansas on Nov. 18. The Wildcats, who are currently in the midst of a season-long eight-game home stand, defeated Providence on Sunday, 58-38.
In the only previous meeting between the programs, Kentucky defeated Texas in the 1993 Maui Invitational, 86-61.
The Longhorns had difficulty pulling away from their sister school earlier in the week, as they clung to a single-digit lead for most of the second half, but they never surrendered that advantage down the stretch en route to a 10- point win. The Longhorns held UTA to 36.4 percent field-goal shooting, and while they were even worse from the field (.300), they earned extra possessions by dominating the rebounding battle, 52-25. Highly touted freshman Myles Turner came off the bench to shoot just 2-of-10 from the field, but he knocked down 14-of-17 at the free-throw line on his way to 18 points and 10 rebounds. Jonathan Holmes narrowly missed a double-double with nine points and 16 rebounds.
Texas' identity as an elite team comes on the defensive end of the floor, as it has held each opponent this season to under 60 points and 37 percent field- goal shooting. The Longhorns have had plenty of offensive success as well (72.6 ppg) and their +13.9 rebounding margin ranks fourth-best in the nation. The squad suffered a huge blow when Isaiah Taylor (15.0 ppg) was lost to a broken wrist a few weeks back. In his absence, Holmes (12.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg), Turner (12.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Javan Felix (8.8 ppg) will need to shoulder more of the scoring load.
The Wildcats were far from their best offensively in their win over Providence, as they shot 45.3 percent from the field and a lackluster 8-of-17 from the free-throw line in the 58-point effort. Luckily it didn't matter much considering they held Providence to a mere 28.2 percent shooting, forcing it into more turnovers (18) than field goals (11). Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein paced the quiet scoring night with 11 points apiece, while six other netted at least five points.
Kentucky is one of the few teams in the country that plays better defense than Texas, as it allows a lowly 44.6 ppg on 27.9 percent field-goal shooting, numbers that rank second and first in the nation, respectively. UK usually has the ability to score at will on the other end as well, putting up 79.0 ppg on nearly 48 percent shooting. The only players in double figures are Aaron Harrison (10.4 ppg), Devin Booker (10.3 ppg) and Dakari Johnson (10.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg), but the team has arguably the deepest bench in the country with a total of nine players who score at least 5.4 ppg. Towns (8.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg) is a defensive mainstay in the paint with three blocks per contest.