Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie practically guaranteed that his team will play "dramatically" better in its second game of the season.
But given that the opponent is No. 1 North Carolina, Gillispie sounded braced for an 0-2 start to this season. That would be historic. Only twice since 1926 has UK started a season with two losses: 1975-76 and 2000-01.
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"We have to get better," Gillispie said when asked about improvement since the opening-game 111-103 loss to Virginia Military Institute. "Every single player has to play better. We have to coach better. I'm certain that we will (be better). I have no question that we will."
But the news that North Carolina All-American Tyler Hansbrough will not play failed to bring Gillispie to predict victory, even with improved play.
"Then they're down to four or five pro players inside instead of six or seven," the UK coach quipped at a Monday news conference.
History supports Gillispie. In his celebrated career, Hansbrough has done little celebrating at Kentucky's expense. He's made only five of 23 shots while struggling to averages of 9.0 points and 8.0 rebounds against a collapsing defense.
Kentucky put the onus of winning the game on Hansbrough's teammates. No problem for the Tar Heels, who won all three games (average margin 8.3 points).
Yet the supporting cast Tuesday is relatively weak. Besides Hansbrough, North Carolina also plays without Marcus Ginyard, its best perimeter defender and the likely player to guard Jodie Meeks.
"I don't think anybody ever caught Carolina at a good time," Gillispie said. "... It's a very, very big challenge. We knew it'd be that way no matter the outcome on Friday."
Hansbrough has been sidelined for two weeks because of a stress reaction in his right shin. North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said he wanted to be conservative and not rush Hansbrough's return. Williams was unsure if Hansbrough would play in the Maui Invitational next week.
Hansbrough, affectionately known as "Psycho T," is not happy to miss the Kentucky game.
"He's pretty snotty," Williams said.
Without Hansbrough, North Carolina would seem more vulnerable to a low-post threat like, say, UK sophomore Patrick Patterson.
Yet Patterson equaled a career low of four shots in the loss to VMI.
Gillispie cited the speed of the game, which VMI's quick shooting dictated, as 75 percent of the reason for Patterson's quiet night at home.
The other 25 percent Gillispie attributed to Patterson's slow start.
"As a sophomore, he didn't respond as well as I've come to expect him to respond," said Gillispie, who noted that UK's 25 turnovers complicated the chance to establish anything offensively.
But the UK coach all but promised a bigger impact for Patterson going forward.
"We're not going to ignore him anymore," Gillispie said. "There will be times we miss him. But we won't ignore him."
Gillispie again vouched for Patterson's health. Off-season ankle surgery interrupted the normal conditioning.
"I'm not concerned about Patrick," Gillispie said. "I know he's healthy. You're out six months, it's not going to be easy. But he's worked his tail off. We have to do a better job utilizing him."
Without Hansbrough, North Carolina does not have its best low-post defender.
"Last year Tyler did a great job trying to front Patrick Patterson," the Tar Heels coach said. "Nobody else guarded him worth a flip."
Junior forward Deon Thompson gives North Carolina an experienced front-line player.
As for center, the Tar Heels count on two McDonald's All-Americans in freshmen Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis.
"They're two of the top, if not the top two incoming post players in the country," said Gillispie, who noted how well Zeller and Davis fit North Carolina's system.
Each played well in North Carolina's opening-game victory over Penn on Saturday. Davis had a double-double (10 points and 14 rebounds). Zeller, or as Williams calls him "Big Z," is a native of Washington, Ind., and was once a prime recruiting target for UK. He scored 18 points against Penn.
As Gillispie promised better play, so Williams asked for more rebounding from his big men.
"I told 'Big Z', you've got to get more than two rebounds," the North Carolina coach said. "And it's something for everybody."