North Carolina, No. 21 Kentucky intersect for impromptu game in Vegas
North Carolina and No. 21 Kentucky will wage an impromptu battle of the blue bloods on Saturday at the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas.
The Tar Heels (8-2) initially were slated to tangle with No. 4 UCLA on Saturday, but COVID-19 issues within the Bruins program forced some fancy footwork on the part of the schedule makers.
The Wildcats (7-2) were preparing to face No. 15 Ohio State before the Buckeyes had to address COVID-19 problems of their own.
COVID-19 issues last season led to North Carolina and Kentucky meeting in the CBS Sports Classic in Cleveland. Armando Bacot had 14 points and then-freshman Caleb Love added six assists to pace the Tar Heels to a 75-63 win over the Wildcats on Dec. 19, 2020.
North Carolina has won five games in a row while preventing all of its opponents in that stretch from scoring more than 63 points.
This has been the Tar Heels’ best stretch of games defensively in 11 years.
“We have kind of been finding ourselves as a team and defining our roles,” Bacot said. “I would just say we need to keep getting better. We can be even better on defense and tidying up our offense. I feel like our offense hasn’t been as good as it was starting off the season, but now our defense is better.”
North Carolina’s Dawson Garcia has reached the 20-point mark the past two games and three times this season overall.
“One of the things that we’ve talked about in the last week or so is just trying to establish him offensively early,” Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis said.
Love is North Carolina’s leading scorer at 16.2 points per game, with Bacot next at 14.3. Both players had double-doubles in Tuesday night’s 74-61 victory against visiting Furman, marking the first time this season that two Tar Heels achieved that in the same game.
North Carolina made a season-low five 3-points shots Tuesday night.
The Tar Heels are 0-2 in neutral-site games, falling to nationally ranked foes Purdue and Tennessee last month.
Meanwhile, the No. 21 Wildcats dropped a 66-62 decision at Notre Dame last Saturday. Coupled with a 79-71 loss to Duke at Madison Square Garden in the season opener, Kentucky is 0-2 vs. Power Five schools this season.
Wildcats coach John Calipari preached this week to the fan base not to be overly concerned by that mark.
“I’ll say this, we’ve got great kids,” Calipari said. “We do, and I think we’ve got a team that before it’s all said will be fine.”
Kentucky is led by Sahvir Wheeler, second in the country with 7.7 assists per game, and the inside presence of Oscar Tshiebwe. He’s among the national leaders in rebounds (14.4) and offensive rebounds (6.1) while leading the team in scoring (16.3).
The game takes place with the backdrop of the tornadoes in western Kentucky last Saturday that killed more than 75 people.
The Kentucky athletics department held a telethon Tuesday, spearheaded by Calipari, which has raised more than $4 million.
— Field Level Media