Men's Basketball
Big Blue Preview: Kentucky vs. North Carolina

Big Blue Preview: Kentucky vs. North Carolina

Kentucky head coach John Calipari has never shied away from playing against the toughest teams in the nation. This Saturday, Calipari and his Cats will face No. 9 North Carolina, another one of college basketball’s blue bloods, in the CBS Sports Classic in Atlanta (approximately 5:30 p.m. ET, CBS).

Kentucky associate to the head coach Bruiser Flint does not think that the coaching staff will have to get the players fired up to play in this game.

“You always get excited not only when you play North Carolina but in these events,” Flint said. “It’s always good to play against these opponents. If coaches have to motivate you to play in these type games, you’re going to be in trouble. I think the guys are excited about playing.”

When Kentucky faced another blue blood, Kansas, early in the year, it was Jayhawks’ big man Hunter Dickinson who dominated the game. North Carolina has a similar player in Armando Bacot, but Flint hopes that this time around, Kentucky will be better equipped to defend a very talented big man.

The Cats got 7-1 Aaron Bradshaw back two weeks ago. Now, 7-0 Ugonna Onyenso appears to be on the cusp of making his return. Flint thinks that makes the Cats better defensively on the interior.

“Hopefully, we can handle him (better) because we have two guys who can match up with him,” Flint said. “We didn’t have that against Dickinson.”

As far as Onyenso, Flint thinks he is somewhat ahead of schedule because of his experience in playing for UK last season.

“He’s been pretty good in practice,” Flint said. “Ugo played last year, so he has a pretty good idea about what we ask of him. He’s done well in practice. He’s got some experience.”

For the Cats, incorporating the bigs into the lineup will be a bit of an adjustment.

“All of the sudden, we’ve got these big guys we haven’t had before,” Flint said. “It’s going to be a little different.”

Kentucky is hoping that different can be good when they face North Carolina on Saturday.

Last Time Out: Penn Recap

One week ago, Aaron Bradshaw saw his first game action for Kentucky this season. As the Cats lost to UNC Wilmington, the freshman big man had three points and two rebounds in just under 13 minutes of action.

On Saturday against Penn, Bradshaw looked much more comfortable. And his numbers were much closer to what he and UK head coach John Calipari were expecting from the former five-star recruit.

Bradshaw had his first career double-double, scoring 17 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, as Kentucky held off a tough Penn team 81-66 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Bradshaw added three blocked shots, a steal and also hit his first career 3-pointer in the win.

Fellow freshman Rob Dillingham also had 17 points for the Cats, while Antonio Reeves had 16. D.J. Wagner had nine points and seven assists, returning after missing last Saturday’s game with an ankle injury.

The game was tight early before Kentucky scored five in a row to lead 19-12. Penn would answer with a 9-2 stretch to get within two, 23-21. That’s when the Cats got hot. Dillingham hit a three, Bradshaw scored on a layup, Reeves hit a jumper and Sheppard drilled a three to make it 33-12. After a Penn basket, Wagner, Mitchell and Bradshaw scored baskets to complete a 16-2 run, giving UK a 39-23 advantage.

Penn would scored the final six points of the half but the Cats led 39-29 at the break.

The Quakers started the second half with a 7-2 run to get within five, 41-36. Penn would cut it to two before Sheppard stole a pass and raced the length of the floor for a layup, giving UK a 47-43 lead. The Quakers would get within one before the Cats went on a 9-3 run, keyed by six points from Dillingham and a three from Bradshaw.

Kentucky would extend the lead to 10, 61-51, on a Wagner three but Penn answered with consecutive threes to get back within four, 61-57, with 10:18 left. But Reeves would score seven points in a 9-0 UK run that gave the Cats a 70-57 lead with 7:35 to play.

In Catlanta

Kentucky has historically performed well in the city that has been dubbed “Catlanta” by its fans. The Wildcats are 70-33 in games in Atlanta, but have lost three straight since 2014.

This marks the first time the CBS Sports Classic has battled in Atlanta. UK’s last appearance was during the COVID season in Dec. of 2020 when Georgia Tech earned a 79-62 win in State Farm Arena.

Atlanta has been a popular stop for the Southeastern Conference Tournament and the Wildcats have claimed six of their 31 league tournament titles in Atlanta. The last came in 2011.

The CBS Sports Classic: Battling the Tar Heels

Kentucky fell to 4-5 in the CBS Sports Classic after falling to UCLA, 63-53, a year ago in New York.

North Carolina leads the four schools in the CBS Sports Classic with a 6-3 record. Ohio State is 4-4 and UCLA is 3-5 in the event.

North Carolina leads the all-time series, 25-17, but UK is 7-4 with John Calipari at the helm in the series and UK is 3-1 in the CBS Sports Classic against UNC. Kentucky earned its first win in the event against the Tar Heels when Malik Monk scored 47 points in an epic 103-100 win in Las Vegas in 2016-17. Kentucky then won 80-72 in Chicago in 2018-19 when Ashton Hagans tied a single-game program record with eight steals. UK then triumphed to a 98-69 win in Las Vegas in 2022-23 behind future National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe’s 16-point, 12-rebound performance. UNC’s lone win in the event vs. UK came during the COVID season in 2020-21 with UNC winning by a 75-63 score.

The CBS Sports Classic annually brings together four of the nation’s most successful college basketball programs. The quartet owns a combined 26 national championships, with UCLA (11), Kentucky (eight) and North Carolina (six) ranking first, second and third, respectively, in NCAA history. Additionally, all four programs rank in the top six in all time Final Four berths, compiling 66 total appearances between them (North Carolina, 21; UCLA, 18; Kentucky, 17; Ohio State, 11). They are among college basketball’s all-time winningest programs, combining for more than 8,400 victories.

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