Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky should get a fast-tempo test; plus more Big Blue Links

Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox drives on UCLA during UK’s 97-92 loss to the Bruins on Dec. 3, 2017.
Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox drives on UCLA during UK’s 97-92 loss to the Bruins on Dec. 3, 2017. Lexington Herald-Leader

Big Blue Links for Saturday:

How good is Kentucky? We’re about to find out. Eamonn Brennan of ESPN writes, “Quick question: Just how good is Kentucky, anyway? The safe bet is very good. Very, very good. Like, national-title-contention good. And why not? John Calipari entered the 2016-17 season having wrangled together the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, per ESPN RecruitingNation, in a year when No. 1 Harry Giles and No. 3 Jayson Tatum both chose to play at Duke.”

North Carolina has no plans to slow it down against Kentucky. Andrew Carter of the Charlotte Observer reports. “I did get something reading the stats,” UNC coach Roy Williams said at one point about Kentucky, UNC’s opponent on Saturday in Las Vegas in the CBS Sports Classic. “They take a shot every 13.5 or 6 seconds. That’s second-fastest in the country and I know we don’t take it that fast, but I’d like to. I’d like to take it faster than that.”

How Kentucky and North Carolina match up -- with a game prediction. Mark Story of the Herald-Leader writes, “North Carolina’s Justin Jackson , a 6-8, 210-pound junior from Tomball, Texas, is the Tar Heels’ leading scorer (15.5 ppg) but epitomizes streaky. In UNC’s 73-71 escape against Tennessee on Sunday, Jackson went 3-for-15 from the field, 0-for-6 on three-pointers. Against Davidson in the contest prior, Jackson hit seven of 13 three-pointers and tied his career high with 27 points. A 1,000-point career scorer (1,066), Jackson hit three treys in UNC’s heartbreaking loss to Villanova in last season’s NCAA title game. “

Seth Davis picks North Carolina over UK. The Sports Illustrated writer says, “The word is that North Carolina hopes to have the services of junior point guard Joel Berry, who has missed the last two games because of a sprained left ankle. Berry is the difference between a likely Tar Heels win and likely Tar Heels loss. Kentucky depends heavily on its ability to overwhelm opponents with pace and athleticism. The Heels can match UK in those departments, but they will bring far more experience. They will also have the best player on the floor in 6’ 8” junior forward Justin Jackson.”

Joel Berry played meditation game at North Carolina. Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated writes, “It usually takes only 10 or 15 minutes for Joel Berry II to see what he wants. Every night, he lies on his back, shuts his eyes and measures his breaths. Usually the room is quiet; sometimes ocean sounds fill the background. If he happens to be sharing a hotel room with a teammate on the road, Berry puts on his headphones and opens Pandora and whoever occupies the other bed knows to leave him alone. He thinks about hitting a shot or laughing with his fellow Tar Heels or holding up a trophy. He thinks about all the things he wants to happen but haven’t happened yet.”

Can Kentucky counter North Carolina on the glass? Kyle Tucker of SEC Country writes, “Matching up with a veteran team that gets 23.3 percent of its made 2-point baskets on putbacks — which Hoop-Math.com defines as shots taken within four seconds of an offensive rebound — is less than ideal for freshman-heavy Kentucky. How do the Cats combat what the Tar Heels do best with what is their own relative weakness? “

Isaiah Hicks returned to North Carolina for games like these. Andrew Carter of the Charlotte Observer writes, “Isaiah Hicks didn’t have much of a decision to make when North Carolina’s season ended last April because he knew then he’d be back for his senior season. Maybe he’d always known, though Hicks can’t be sure. Sometimes he still seems surprised this is all happening to him. “

Alex Montgomery finds a way to just keep living life. Jennifer Smith of the Herald-Leader reports, “With his fingertips, he gently traces the discolored lines. Some are older wounds guarded by hardened, darkened tissue. Some are wounds still soft from his most recent surgery. These raised dots and lines — scars from five surgeries in three years — tell the story of how Alexander Montgomery’s college football career ended.”

Mark Stoops’ brother is taking criticism at Oklahoma over handling of Joe Mixon. Lindsay Schnell of SI.com writes, “So, Bob Stoops, was it worth it? I watched the video Friday afternoon of Oklahoma Sooners running back Joe Mixon hitting Amelia Molitor, the video we’d all heard about for three years, the video you and your bosses watched and basically shrugged off. You remember that video, right? (You lucked out! If you don’t recall the details, it’s now available online for everyone to see.)”

Top Auburn recruit to make his debut. The AP reports, “Top Auburn recruit Austin Wiley has enrolled in school and will make his debut this weekend. Tigers coach Bruce Pearl announced Friday that the five-star freshman center will play Sunday against Mercer. Pearl says the NCAA has deemed Wiley a qualifier. He finished his high school coursework at Florida’s Conrad Academy.”

KENTUCKY VS. NORTH CAROLINA

When: Saturday, 5:45 p.m.

Where: T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas

Records: Kentucky 9-1; North Carolina 10-1

TV: CBS (WKYT-27) with Brad Nessler, Bill Raftery and John Schriffen

Radio: UK Network (WLAP-AM 630) with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt; Westwood One (WLXG-AM 1300) with John Sadak and Steve Lappas.

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