The race between Kentucky and North Carolina to 2,000 victories consumes many fans. But UK Coach John Calipari and UNC's Roy Williams claim to be unmoved.
"It's a big deal within the commonwealth," Calipari said on Thursday. "And we all understand. But the reality of it is we're playing for March. That's our deal. It's always been the way I coached."
Going into Saturday's game, Kentucky has 1,995 victories. North Carolina has 1,991.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Yet, Calipari noted the importance of preparing this time of year to achieve six victories in the NCAA Tournament. That makes the UK-UNC game a glorified lab experiment.
"The biggest thing in the game is what are we going to learn about our team," Calipari said.
No. 10 North Carolina can give No. 5 Kentucky a clear idea of where the Cats are at this stage of the season and how they need to improve.
"It'll be there for everybody to see," Calipari said.
Calipari suggested he may have given the Cats too much to grasp, so he has simplified Kentucky's approach.
Meanwhile, Williams all but surrendered in the race for 2,000.
"It doesn't matter regardless of what we do," Williams said of any importance UNC might put on the milestone. "If they play well, they'll beat us (to 2,000)."
Of UNC beating UK to 2,000, Williams said "the odds are not good."
That milestone would be significant for either program, he said. "They had a sizable lead there," he said. "We cut into it."
UK 'more focused'
Freshman DeMarcus Cousins noted how UK practices have been "a lot more focused" going into the North Carolina game.
"Usually we're kind of laid back with our game plan," he said. "It's all business now."
Cousins said he saw more intensity in Calipari's approach to practice.
When asked what he saw that suggested a new tone, Cousins said, "Uh, we went almost three hours. ... The bar has been raised."
Williams lauds Wall
North Carolina Coach Roy Williams compared John Wall to Jason Kidd.
"I love him as a player," Williams said of Wall. "He's the best point guard prospect since Jason Kidd."
UNC did not offer Wall a scholarship, which raised eyebrows because Wall lived in nearby Raleigh.
"Things just didn't fit," Williams said. "Some shoes just don't fit."
Williams noted he spoke to Wall before North Carolina played in the 2009 Final Four. "A couple things happened immediately after that that made me make the decision (not to proceed in the recruiting effort)," the UNC coach said.
Williams declined to elaborate.
"He can't have any bigger fan than Roy Williams is for him," Williams said.
Calipari will issue a do-or-sit challenge for UK's defenders.
"There will be a lot of matchups and guys being challenged," the UK coach said. "You're going to play this guy. And if you can't play him, I'll have to try somebody else."
UNC will zero in on Wall.
"They basically go as John Wall goes," UNC assistant Jerod Haase said on Woody's Daily Show on the Tar Heels' Web site. "Our ability to contain him will be crucial."
Williams affirmed how he likes to throw different looks at an opposing ball handler. "So you don't get used to what's in front of you," he said.
Marcus Ginyard, who is 6-foot-5, got a turn in limiting Michigan State point guard Kalin Lucas to 6-for-17 shooting on Tuesday. He'll probably take a turn on Wall.
Respect for UNC
On the post-game radio show after Kentucky beat UNC-Asheville, Cousins said he was not overly impressed with North Carolina. He amended his view on Thursday.
"After I saw them play Michigan State, I have a new respect for them," Cousins said. "They're pretty good."
Ian Eagle and Clark Kellogg will call the game for CBS.