John Clay

Victory not as important as discovery

I know, I know, there's only the matter of the sport's supremacy to worry about.

And, of course, there's that overly important race to 2,000 wins. Or if Ashley Judd can shed the flu and arrive in blue. Or if we all lose our hearing in Rupp Arena's (John) Wall of sound. Did we mention CBS is in town?

Finally, five years gone, Kentucky-North Carolina, before a national television audience, Saturday at a rabid Rupp, feels like the best kind of fight, a fair fight.

"It's gonna be crazy," said John Wall.

Now, just for a second, Big Blue Nation, breathe. Hit the emotional pause button. Take a pinch of perspective. It's December, remember.

John Calipari isn't Bono, but he could be. And there's a verse in the latest U2 album, from a song called, Stand Up Comedy, in which Bono sings, "I gotta stand up to ego, but my ego's not really the enemy/It's like a small child crossing an eight-lane highway/On a voyage of discovery."

Egos aside, Kentucky is the small child. North Carolina is the eight-lane highway. Saturday is the voyage of discovery.

"We're going to find out," the Kentucky coach kept saying Thursday in his pre-game media mash-up. He said it with a knowing grin, as if we'll all see what Calipari sees, implying that he thinks his team isn't quite that good. That good. Yet.

Calipari: "This is going to be a hard game for us to win."

That's part coach-speak, part gospel. Exact mix undetermined. After all, Kentucky is undefeated against lesser foes. North Carolina is not a lesser foe.

The Tar Heels are 7-1. That one loss, to Syracuse at Madison Square Garden, Carolina came up cold. Wednesday night, versus Michigan State, the Heels burned the nets. And won.

Calipari: "We're playing for March."

That's old-school Denny Crum talk, the kind that speaks to me. Who wins Saturday on the scoreboard doesn't mean as much as who learns the most come Monday's practice. And there is so much to learn.

Example: DeMarcus Cousins is a lovable bear of a freshman. The guess here is that right here, right now, Cousins is a better pro prospect than even Patrick Patterson, if only for that body. And what he can do with it.

But Cousins, as Calipari reminds us, is a kid. He can be impatient. He can be frustrated.

North Carolina has the size to do just that. Tyler Zeller is listed at 7-foot. Ed Davis, John Henson, the twins David and Travis Wear, are all 6-foot-10. Deon Thompson is 6-9. That's a thick forest of tall trees.

Meanwhile, at 6-9, Patrick Patterson is no taller, but expanded. No longer is he chained to the lane. He can roam on his own. His first two years, Patterson didn't experience the joy of a single made three-pointer. This year, he's made five.

Produce from the perimeter, and Patterson should draw a tall Tar Heel away from the bucket. But if Kentucky can't "hold its ground" on the glass, as Calipari put it, Patterson will return to his place in the paint.

Last, but not least, is the wonder of Wall. The issue of whether Roy Williams did or did not covet John Wall's amazing talents makes good copy, but means little the first time the speedball freshman gets bumped across the lane.

So reserve an eyeball for Larry Drew II. He's the UNC point guard. Hype says it takes two Drews to match Wall. But when Drew went scoreless against Syracuse, North Carolina lost. When he scored 18 against Michigan State, North Carolina won.

The guess here is Saturday's outcome could go either way, and it really doesn't matter much. Not right now.

March is what matters. December is for discovery. That voyage is just starting. Stand up. And enjoy the view.

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