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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis was looking forward to a showdown between the nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s two top-ranked teams when the Cats host North Carolina on Saturday. But that was before the Tar Heels lost to UNLV.
Now Kentucky has climbed to No. 1 in the ratings while North Carolina dropped to No. 5 Ã¢â‚¬â€ and still has to play Wisconsin tonight.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be crazy in Rupp for North Carolina,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Davis. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It will be a great, great game. Everybody has been wanting to see that game and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why it will be so crazy. We play a lot of big games here, which I like. I always want to get better and playing in big games against physical players who play just like us can only help.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The Wildcats first host St. JohnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Thursday in the Big East/Southeastern Conference Challenge with ESPN analyst Dick Vitale in Rupp Arena to call the action. St. JohnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s coach Steve Lavin is not expected to be with the team after recently undergoing prostrate surgery and the Redmen are not nearly as strong as last year. Still, UKÃ¢â‚¬Ë†freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist says games like St. JohnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and North Carolina are fun.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am looking forward to them both. I am just ready to have some fun. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s it. The name doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mean anything to me. I just go out and play and have fun and games like this it is easy to have fun,Ã¢â‚¬Â Kidd-Gilchrist said.
Sophomore guard Doron Lamb hopes his younger teammates learned some valuable lessons in the tune-up games UKÃ¢â‚¬Ë†had last week leading to the high profile games Thursday and Saturday.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You learn not to force shots and let the game come to you no matter who you play,Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ¢â‚¬Ë†Lamb said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t try to score cause you are playing a weaker team. Just go hard and play defense like it was a national championship game. You score points on defense. Play hard all the time. The easier games are good for everybody. You learn to just run your offense better, donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t make mistakes and be aggressive. Drive to the basket if you see a lane, make open shots and just stay in the offense. Then you do the same things in bigger games because you are used to doing them.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Davis said coach John Calipari told the players to use games like the ones last week against Radford and Portland to prepare for more difficult games.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Coach Cal told us everything that we are doing is a learning opportunity and we have to learn from everything we do. If we keep playing defense like we are playing and working on the offensive things, he said it will prepare us for tougher games coming,Ã¢â‚¬Â Davis said.
Kentucky showed spurts of brilliance against both Radford and Portland last week.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“That stretch of the second half was really, really good,Ã¢â‚¬Â Kidd-Gilchrist said after the Portland win Saturday. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think we are going to be good in the long run. We are just so young. We are still just learning this game, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going really good.”
Kidd-Gilchrist wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t worried that UKÃ¢â‚¬Ë†was outrebounded by Portland.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think it is an issue. We just have to get tougher. That is one of the reasons (for being outrebounded), but it is not an issue,Ã¢â‚¬Â Kidd-Gilchrist said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all about effort and a matter of heart. We are going to be good in the long run. DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really worry about that.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Calipari has not always been pleased with UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s defense, either, something Lamb can understand.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We just have to get better. We are not perfect. We have a lot of help defense and stunt on the wings that is really hard to get right. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to drive to the basket and get easy baskets on us and try to even get a shot off with Anthony and Terrence (Jones) down there,Ã¢â‚¬Â Lamb said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We are there helping, switching, boxing out on rebounds and running the lanes. We think we can bring it on both ends, but we know Coach is right about our defense having to be better for St. JohnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and North Carolina.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Radford coach Mike Jones says beating Kentucky is not going to be easy to do for any team.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The tough part is when they are on that back line and you help at all and they just throw it up to the rim. Once they get up in the air, then they are pretty much on their own, but if you can get them before they are in the air then I think you have a chance,Ã¢â‚¬Â Jones said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“In the half court, the biggest thing was to just stay in front of the drivers because they all want to drive. I thought they did a really good job of getting inside our zone with drives.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d run up to them and the next thing we knew theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be by us. They were able to get a lot of good shots because they were able to get into the defense and kick it out. They are a difficult matchup, they have a lot of skilled players. Terrence Jones, Kidd-Gilchrist and (Darius) Miller are good at taking one or two dribbles and kicking it out.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Now the new Cats just want to see what the next two games will be like.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know our schedule when we signed here,Ã¢â‚¬Â Davis said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We just knew Kansas on Nov. 15. That was only game we really knew about or talked about when we signed last year. When they pulled out the schedule and told us who we were playing, it was a shocker to be playing North Carolina and thinking they would be No. 1. But big games are part of Kentucky basketball and we canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wait to see what itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be like in Rupp Arena.Ã¢â‚¬Â