Lexington, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats will put their unblemished record in harm's way on Saturday afternoon, as they play host to the 21st-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels at Rupp Arena.
John Calipari's Wildcats have opened the season with 10 straight wins to solidify their position atop the national polls. Kentucky was last in action on Tuesday and may have shown some chinks in the armor, with a rather bland 56-46 victory over Columbia. This game closes out an eight-game homestand for the Wildcats, who will tangle with UCLA in Chicago next week.
Roy Williams' Tar Heels have a pair of losses on the season, falling to Butler (74-66) and Iowa (60-55). However, the team got back in the win column and moved to 6-2 on the season with Sunday's 108-64 rout of East Carolina. This game begins a three-game road trip that has UNC playing at UNCG and against Ohio State in Chicago next week.
North Carolina holds a 23-13 advantage in the all-time series with Kentucky and won last year's matchup in Chapel Hill, 82-77.
When North Carolina is at its best, it dominates play at both ends of the floor. The Tar Heels enter this contest averaging a hefty 81.6 ppg and boast of an impressive +17.8 scoring margin. The team also lives comfortably in terms of rebounding (+6.8) and turnover margin (+3.0). The starting five has been instrumental in UNC's success thus far, as the entire set averages double figures. Marcus Paige leads the perimeter assault with a team-best 14.0 ppg. Kennedy Meeks has been a monster in the paint, delivering on nearly 64 percent of his shots and averaging a double-double with 13.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per outing. Further scoring depth comes in the form of Brice Johnson (11.3 ppg), Justin Jackson (10.4 ppg) and J.P. Tokoto (10.0 ppg).
The Tar Heels erupted for a season-high 108 points last time out, blowing past East Carolina. UNC shot 60 percent from the floor, including a scorching 71.9 percent in the second half, where they tallied a whopping 60 points. Johnson (19 pts, 17 rebs) and Meeks (12 pts, 11 rebs) both posted double-doubles. Tokoto poured in 19 points and doled out eight assists, while Nate Britt tacked on 10 points off the bench.
The Wildcats have dominated the competition this season thanks to stifling defensive play. Kentucky leads the nation in both scoring defense (45.8 ppg) and field-goal percentage defense (.287), while also outrebounding foes (+12.4) and forcing more turnovers (+6.2). A young team did take a hit in terms of its veteran leadership this week however, as big man Alex Poythress suffered a torn ACL on Thursday and is lost for the season. Kentucky still has plenty of talent in the frontcourt to assuage the loss, with junior Willie Cauley-Stein (10.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg), sophomore Dakari Johnson (9.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and freshman Karl-Anthony Towns (9.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.8 bpg). Balance comes in the form of guards Aaron Harrison (9.8 ppg), Devin Booker (8.4 ppg) and Andrew Harrison (7.3 ppg, 3.7 apg).
The usually efficient Wildcats really struggled offensively against Columbia last time out, shooting a mere .367 from the floor, a number weighed down by an ugly 2-of-17 effort from behind the arc (.118). However, Kentucky did own a huge advantage over the Lions on the boards (41-28) and held Columbia to just .375 shooting efficiency. Aaron Harrison led the team with 14 points in the win. Cauley-Stein recorded a double-double for Kentucky, finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds.