The No. 3/4 Kentucky Wildcats (7-1) travel south to the Lone Star State to take on the No. 20 Baylor Bears (7-1) at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, AT&T Stadium (80,000), as part of a men's and women's double-header. The 'Cats will are looking to build on a solid 79-65 win over Providence last time out, while the Bears are searching for an upset of a top 5 team, establishing themselves as a legitimate contender to win the Big 12.
Tonight's contest marks the third consecutive year the 'Cats and Bears have hooked up on the hardwood. UK took the matchup two years ago in a NCAA Tournament Elite Eight showdown. In last season's contest, Baylor broke UK's 54-game home-court winning streak, 64-57.
Hired in 2003, Baylor head coach Scott Drew has done a remarkable job at a school which has struggled to maintain a consistently winning program. Drew has led the Bears to five 20-win seasons in the last six years resulting in five postseason appearances in the last six years. He also led the school to its first 30-win season in history in 2012.
The Bears' only loss this season came to No. 4 Syracuse in the finals of the Maui Invitational. In that game, Baylor turned the ball over 20 times, leading to the Orangemen having a 12 shot advantage for the game. In Baylor's victories this season, the Bears average 11.9 miscues per contest.
Baylor's best wins have come against Colorado, 72-60, South Carolina, 66-64, and No. 25 Dayton, 67-66.
The Wildcats are 7-1 all-time against Baylor, and have posted a 59-10 record against teams from the Big 12.
Isaiah Austin, Baylor's 7-1 sophomore center, is the nephew of nine-year NBA veteran Isaac "Ike" Austin. Isaiah, a Second Team All-Big 12 selection last year, is a former McDonald's All-America player. The big man is averaging 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks per contest.
Rico Gathers, a 6-8 sophomore sub for Baylor, is the second cousin of the late Hank Gathers (Loyola Marymount). Gathers is the Bears' "energy guy," producing 5.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in a little over 14.0 minutes per contest.
Baylor boasts several long-range sharpshooters, including 6-2 senior guard Brady Heslip, who has connected on 31-of-62 shots from beyond the arc (50.0 percent); Gary Franklin, another 6-2 senior guard (and California transfer), has made 16-of-34 from distance (47.1 percent); and 6-6 junior forward Royce O'Neal (a Denver transfer), has made 8-of-11 from range (72.7 percent).
As a team, Baylor makes an outstanding 44.4 percent of its shots from beyond the arc on the year (60-135).
Kenny Chery, Baylor's 5-11 junior point guard, leads the team with 4.9 assists per game. Chery and Heslip are both natives of Canada.
The 'Cats rank ninth in the nation in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 35.7 percent. Kentucky is second in the nation in rebounding differential, posting a plus-15.5 rebounds per game advantage. Finally, UK is eighth in in the land with 7.9 swats per game.
According to KenPom.com, the 'Cats average experience is .23 years, which ranks 351st out of 351 Division I basketball teams.
In UK's 79-55 win over Providence, the 'Cats shot 64.3 percent from the field (27-42), the third best shooting day of the John Calipari-era, and the 37th time Kentucky has made over 64.0 percent of its shots in the history of the program.
In that same game, the UK connected on 75.0 percent of its long-range attempts (6-8), making it the best 3-point shooting percentage a Kentucky squad has ever posted. The next best 3-point shooting game in UK history came on December 6, 1986, when the 'Cats made 5-of-7 from distance (71.4 percent).
Through eight games, Cauley-Stein has recorded 31 blocks, which compares nicely to Anthony Davis' 36 swats and Nerlens Noel's 25 blocks through the same number of games.
In Kentucky's current five-game winning streak, Aaron Harrison is leading the 'Cats in scoring at 16.2 points per game.
Also during UK's winning streak, the Wildcats are shooting 48.0 percent from the field, while holding their opponents to 33.3 percent shooting.
John Calipari is 25-4 in December games since taking over the Kentucky basketball program. All-time, UK is 488-118 in the final month of the year.
Through only eight contests, Julius Randle already ranks 28th in program history for free throws made by a first-year player with 55. John Wall ranks first in the statistic, having nailed 175 free throws during his lone season with the 'Cats.
Randle leads the nation with seven double-doubles.
Kentucky owns a 154-33 all-time mark when playing as the nation's No. 3 team (AP).
In the final five minutes of games this season, the 'Cats have nailed 15-of-18 from the charity stripe (83.3 percent).
Since beginning the season by making only 76-of-122 from the line (62.3 percent), in the last five games UK has made 125-of-173 from the stripe (72.3 percent). UK point guard Andrew Harrison is perfect from the line in the final five minutes of games, connecting on 6-of-6 late-game free throws.
Last time out against Providence, UK produced runs of 8-0, and twice had 10-2 runs.
John Calipari talking about why Willie Cauley-Stein had a breakout game against Providence:
"I asked the team, 'why do you think Willie played that way? Why is he now coming into his own?' One guy said, 'Well, he's not thinking out there.' I said, 'Well, you can say that, but you have to think.' He's reacting better and I'll tell you why; because he's practicing like crazy. He is attacking practices, which makes games easier. We have other guys that the practice is attacking them every day. One guy shut it down. He said, 'I can't breathe.' They looked at his heart rate and it was at like 82 percent. Well, then you have a lung disease. It's not that (though), you just can't push through the comfort level. ... It's just this stuff is all new. We are doing drills they should have been doing in the eighth grade that they obviously didn't, but I'm not going to get ahead of schedule with this group. We are what we are right now."
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!