It’s been pitched as the race to 2000 — the two winningest programs in college basketball squaring off.
In one corner, the visiting North Carolina Tar Heels with 1,991 wins. In the other, the home Kentucky Wildcats with 1,995.
Neither team will be thinking much about the all-time wins record though — a revitalized Kentucky provides the first true road test for the Tar Heels.
North Carolina’s game against Syracuse in New York was a road game in practice, and coach Roy Williams wasn’t happy with his team’s effort in that game.
How the Tar Heels handle the atmosphere at Rupp Arena will be one of the biggest question marks Saturday.
And the main focus will be finishing — if the Tar Heels have an early lead.
Against Michigan State, UNC allowed the Spartans to close the game from almost 20 points to six in the game’s late stages.
“When you play against good teams like Michigan State and other good teams, you can’t let them back in the game,” senior forward Deon Thompson said. “Because once you do, anything can happen.”
That assumes that UNC will control the game in hostile Rupp Arena with an inexperienced team.
But storylines abound for the matchup. There’s new Kentucky coach John Calipari, whose leadership has the Wildcats ranked in the top five nationally.
And then there’s a point guard battle.
With 18 points and six assists in UNC’s convincing 89-82 win against Michigan State, Larry Drew II has been hitting on all cylinders. In the previous game against Nevada he had a career-high 10 assists. For the season his assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.2.
But Drew faces his greatest test so far Saturday when he goes up against Kentucky’s John Wall. Wall is the most highly-touted recruit in recent memory, and he also hails from Raleigh.
So far, the freshman leads Kentucky in scoring with 18.5 points per game, 47 assists and 15 steals in just six games.
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