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December 2, 2011This was supposed to be No. 1 versus No. 2, but UNLV ruined that by upsetting North Carolina in a tournament last weekend.
Nevertheless, this remains the game many college basketball fans around the country have been waiting for since well before the season began.
"You're always eager to play one of the best teams, and Kentucky is one of the best in the country now," UNC junior forward John Henson said. "We're looking forward to taking a shot at them."
The two played twice last season, with Carolina winning in Chapel Hill (75-73) and the Wildcats eliminating the Tar Heels in the round of eight in the NCAA Tournament (76-69).
This will be the Tar Heels second straight game against top-10 teams. UNC defeated No. 7 Wisconsin 60-57 on Wednesday in the Smith Center in the annual ACC/Big 10 Challenge.
Saturday's noon game on CBS will be like entering a whole new universe. Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio State probably have the most talented number of players on their rosters of any teams in the country this season.
Kentucky (7-0) wants to run just as much as Carolina (6-1) does, so there will not be those long possessions as there were in the game against Wisconsin.
"There is a big difference the style of play," Williams said. "There's no question. You could probably guess on 20-percent possessions, the shot clock got down below 10 before Wisconsin took shoot.
"I really believe they could save some power if they didn't even use the shot clock this weekend. It's vast difference. Kentucky wants to run. We want to run."
UNC will probably be missing one of its top outside shooters and an excellent defender in freshman P.J. Hairston. Hairston suffered a sprained left wrist and bone contusion in Wednesday's win over Wisconsin.
This game has certainly been on the mind of the Tar Heels since last season.
"I told them over the summer to let your pain be your fuel for you," Williams said. "I didn't say the loss to Kentucky."
The players admit Kentucky and the pain is what drove them summer.
Carolina did a great job of guarding the 3-point line against Wisconsin, but the Badgers lack UNC's athleticism. The Tar Heels could stay in front of the Wisconsin players without fouling. They could also focus on making the Badgers try to drive.
Rebounding, grabbing loose balls, finishing successfully at the basket are all going to be huge factors in Saturday's game.
"Rupp is going to be crazy, and the key is going to be executing under pressure," Henson said, "and not losing your mind and just going out there and playing."
The UNC big men are going to be tested in this one. Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis is super long and talented. The Wildcats have their usual number of freshmen on the team, but this club also has some returning players that can provide some experience.
Talented Terrence Jones leads the Wildcats in scoring at 15 points a game. Sophomore guard Doron Lamb is second at 14.4 points per game. Davis is third with 13 a game so far. He also grabs an average of nine rebounds per game.
This has become annual premier non-conference game. With expanding conference and the possibility of playing more conference games, the longevity of the rivalry could be in danger, Williams said.
"It's one of the great rivalries of college basketball," Williams said. "It's a game that gets a vast amount of attention.
As far as playing more than 20 games, Williams said something would have to give.
"Would you rather have the number-one team in the conference against number 12, or would you rather have Kentucky?" Williams said. "You can't necessarily have both. If you see 26 [conference games], you're not going to see North Carolina and Kentucky."