Belmont (8-4) at (19) Kentucky (8-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 21, 12 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Rupp Arena (23,000) -- Lexington, Kentucky. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: Belmont 3-1, Kentucky 7-0. Away Record: Belmont 3-3, Kentucky 0-1. Neutral Record: Belmont 2-0, Kentucky 1-2. Conference Record: Belmont 0-0, Kentucky 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The 19th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats open up a three-game homestand on Saturday afternoon, as they take on the Belmont Bruins in a non-conference clash at Rupp Arena.
John Calipari has another extremely young team in Lexington, and that youth has manifested itself in a negative way on the road, where Kentucky is just 1-3 outside of Rupp Arena. One of those losses came last time out, as Kentucky dropped an 82-77 decision in Chapel Hill against North Carolina. The loss dropped the Wildcats to 8-3 on the season, but they return home where they are a perfect 7-0 thus far.
Rick Byrd's Bruins may reside in the Ohio Valley Conference, but they shouldn't be taken lightly. They also took on the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill this year, but recorded a marquee victory with an 83-80 decision. Things haven't gone so well of late however, with losses in two straight and three of the last four games. The most recent was a 90-62 rout at Denver on Tuesday.
This marks the first-ever meeting between these two teams.
Still playing without starting point guard Reece Chamberlain, the Bruins simply couldn't get into a rhythm offensively and suffered their worst loss of the season. Craig Bradshaw led the team with 18 points, while Evan Bradds managed 11, but Belmont shot just .420 from the floor in the game, compared to a .552 effort from Denver, which forced the Bruins into 20 costly turnovers.
The offensive numbers have been far better for Belmont overall, as the team is still netting 80.1 ppg, on an impressive .492 shooting. The team has also thrived from behind the arc, averaging just under nine three-pointers per game. J.J. Mann headlines the offensive attack at 17.7 ppg. Bradshaw is next in line at 12.5 ppg, followed closely by Drew Windler's 12.3 ppg. Chamberlain (10.9 ppg, 4.9 apg) has missed five games this season and is currently questionable with a stress fracture in his right foot.
Being at less than full strength is no way to enter Rupp Arena. Despite their solid overall record, the Bruins will be hard-pressed to match Kentucky bucket for bucket. The Wildcats own a +15.4 scoring margin and are averaging an impressive 80.5 ppg on .475 shooting. The team has also dominated on the glass, outrebounding foes by 12.4 caroms per contest. Leading the way is freshman phenom Julius Randle. The 6-foot-9 youngster is converting over 52 percent of his shots thus far and is averaging a double-double with team-highs of 17.2 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. Fellow freshman James Young (14.1 ppg) and sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein (8.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 4.4 bpg) complete a dominant frontline. The Harrison twins, Aaron (14.4 ppg) and Andrew (10.9 ppg,3.8 apg) handle the majority of the work in the backcourt.
The Wildcats owned a 44-32 advantage on the boards, but shot just 40.7 percent from the floor, went just 29-of-43 from the free-throw line and committed 17 turnovers in the loss to the Tar Heels. Aaron Harrison led the team with 20 points. Andrew Harrison followed with 17 points and seven assists, while Young and Randle managed 16 and 11 points, respectively.
Coming off a rather mediocre performance against the Tar Heels, expect Randle to get going early against the Bruins. Belmont lacks the size and athleticism inside to keep Kentucky from winning this one going away.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Kentucky 84, Belmont 65
12/21 11:00:31 ET