Kentucky Coach John Calipari welcomes the likelihood of Baylor playing a zone defense almost exclusively Friday night. He said he's OK with that because a zone brings more "cohesiveness" to UK's offense.
"My feeling is they'll play 95 percent zone," Calipari said of the Bears. "They're like us. They're so long, you're not getting the looks you think you'll get in that thing."
Yet, at this early stage, UK plays better against a zone, he said. Perhaps because the Cats have seen so much zone so far this season.
"Against man (to-man defense), we don't seem as cohesive as we do against a zone," Calipari said. "You can't just come down and make a play. You have to pass-pass, drive.
"I really don't care if people play zone. It makes us come together. ... We're playing off one another way better."
Baylor Coach Scott Drew declined to reveal exactly how his team would try to defend Julius Randle in particular and Kentucky in general. He did echo Calipari's observation that the Bears have plenty of length to put teeth in its defense.
That length — which includes 7-foot-1 Isaiah Austin, 6-9 Cory Jefferson and 6-8 wide body Rico Gathers — might dilute Kentucky's normal advantage at the other end of the court. Unlike some opponents, Baylor doesn't figure to experience sticker shock going against UK's size.
"We do have a good interior with size and length," Drew said. "Every day we go against a good shot blocker. That helps prepare you."
In more ways than one, the Kentucky-Baylor game serves as a measuring stick.
The immediate benefit is to give each team a means to measure its progress and learn what areas must improve.
Calipari spoke of seeing the Cats play hard and stay in a defensive stance. He noted how UK is decreasing the times it gets caught flat-footed on defense. "It's narrowing," he said. "From 50 times a game to 20 times a game."
In the long term, the game gives the teams a chance to play in AT&T Stadium, which is where the 2014 Final Four will be staged.
Calipari noted how the court will be raised off the football field, as it will be in the Final Four.
'Debt to pay'
Point guard was the big question for Baylor going into this season. Gone is Pierre Jackson, who last season became the first player to ever lead the Big 12 Conference in scoring and assists in the same season. He played well in Baylor's victory at Kentucky last season. He scored 17 points, got credit for five assists and had four steals as the Bears snapped UK's 55-game home winning streak.
Junior college All-American Kenny Chery has stepped in. He's averaging 12 points and 5.2 assists. He's made 50 percent of his shots.
Baylor (7-1) apparently will bring a sore attitude into the game. Austin voiced unhappiness with how the Bears dropped from No. 18 to No. 20 after losing to Syracuse in the Maui Invitational finals.
"They're on top of the country," Austin said of the Cats' No. 3 ranking. "We feel we should be on top of the country. We moved down two spots after the loss to Syracuse. We definitely have a debt to pay."
Austin surprised some by returning to Baylor for his sophomore season. A torn right labrum in April contributed to the decision to not enter the 2013 NBA Draft.
Although averaging fewer points (10.3-13.0), rebounds (5.0-8.3) and minutes (25.7-29.9) this season, Austin said all was well.
"Obviously, I'm not playing well," he said. "But we're winning, so I'm not really tripping about it."
Calipari voiced concern about Jon Hood, who did not dress out the last game because of banging his head on the court in practice. Hood tried to return to practice, but that resulted in headaches, the UK coach said.
UK doctors will be "really conservative" in saying Hood can return to practice and games, Calipari said. "I am concerned."
Baylor basketball's radio play-by-play announcer, John Morris, grew up in Danville as a Kentucky fan. He missed last season's game because he had to be in Waco to call Baylor's football game against visiting Oklahoma State.
"I hated to miss that one," he said last week.
Jon Sciambi and Fran Fraschilla will call the game for ESPN.
Because of the late start of the Kentucky game against Baylor, some Herald-Leader newspapers may be delivered late on Saturday morning.
No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 9 Baylor
When: 7:30 p.m.
Records: Kentucky 8-0, Baylor 7-0
Radio: WLAP-AM 630
No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 20 Baylor
When: 10 p.m.
Records: Kentucky 7-1, Baylor 7-1
TV, Radio: ESPN; WBUL-FM 98.1, WLAP-AM 630