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November 13, 2012

Kentucky meets Duke at Champions Classic in Atlanta

At first, it seemed like Willie Cauley-Stein was kidding. But the shaking head and the blank stare came to be too convincing.

It turns out that the Kentucky freshman really never has seen the Christian Laettner backbreaker, the buzzer-beater that broke so many Wildcat fans' hearts in 1992, the year before Cauley-Stein was born.

"I don't keep up with that," Cauley-Stein said.

But surely he'd seen a replay?

"No," he said.

But he's heard of the shot? Knows who Laettner is?

"Nope," Cauley-Stein replied.

So to be clear, Kentucky's Tuesday tilt with Duke won't have much historic significance for Cauley-Stein. But that's fine. The here and now is tantalizing enough.

The No. 3-ranked Wildcats (1-0) and No. 9 Blue Devils (1-0) both have talented rosters and Final Four aspirations, and their get-together at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta figures to draw a big crowd and a sizeable national TV audience.

And though it might not jog many memories for Cauley-Stein, the college basketball fan at large will sense some history when Kentucky and Duke meet. And the mere sight of the Blue Devils will have some Cat fans seeing red.

"I know they don't like Duke," freshman guard Archie Goodwin said. "And I know Duke don't like Kentucky. It's a lot of schools, seems like, don't like Kentucky nowadays. I know it's a very heated battle."

And Tuesday figures to be a second-straight heated game for the Cats.

Kentucky opened its season last Friday with a 72-69 win against Maryland, a game in which the Wildcats were outrebounded 54-38 and allowed 28 offensive rebounds and 19 second-chance points.

Duke poses a different sort of challenge. Though the Blue Devils have a powerful post player in 6-foot-10, 235-pound senior Mason Plumlee, they're more known for their ability to spread the floor and fire from long range. Duke made 11-of-24 three-pointers in its season-opening win against Georgia State.

"They give you a different kind of look than Maryland," UK coach John Calipari said. "Maryland we didn't think would take more than 15, 16 threes. Duke could take 25 threes if they're available. If not, they're going to throw it inside or drive for layups."

There's not much familiarity between foes. Though Laettner's shot ranks among the most famous in the history of the sport, the Cats and Blue Devils have played just three times since that 1992 classic and not since 2001.

Still, it's a rivalry game of sorts. The schools have 30 Final Fours and 12 NCAA titles between them, they've met in a national title game - Kentucky won, in 1978 - along with a Sweet 16 and two Elite Eights.

And there's that 1992 game, consistently ranked as the greatest played in the history of the NCAA Tournament and the subject of a book earlier this year to mark its 20th anniversary.

"Look, it's a big-time game because it's Duke and Kentucky," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a news conference last week. "It's in Atlanta. Part of a great doubleheader (with Kansas and Michigan State). It's exciting to be involved in that."

The Dome holds some 30,000 fans, and many of them figure to be wearing some combination of royal blue and white.

"This isn't going to be 70 percent Kentucky," Calipari said. "Duke is going to have their fans. Kansas, Michigan State will have their fans. But us and Duke will probably have the majority of the fans. But we're on a neutral court, which is an NCAA environment, and it gets you to learn about your team."

KENTUCKY VS. DUKE| TUESDAY | 9:30 P.M. | ESPN
No. 3 KENTUCKY (1-0)
Coach: John Calipari (103-14 in fourth season at UK; 506-152 in 21st season overall)
Last game: Beat Maryland 72-69
Roster | Stats
No. 9 DUKE (1-0)
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (855-232 in 33rd season at Duke; 928-291 in 38th season overall)
Last game: Beat Georgia State 74-55
Roster | Stats
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Julius Mays Sr. 6-2/192 7.0 2.0
G Archie Goodwin Fr. 6-5/198 16.0 2.0
F Nerlens Noel Fr. 6-10/208 4.0 9.0
F Alex Poytress Fr. 6-7/239 8.0 7.0
F Kyle Wiltjer So. 6-10/239 19.0 6.0
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Tyler Thornton Jr. 6-1/190 13.0 4.0
G Seth Curry Sr. 6-2/185 15.0 0.0
G Rasheed Sulaimon Fr. 6-4/185 6.0 4.0
F Mason Plumlee Sr. 6-10/235 19.0 14.0
F Ryan Kelly Sr. 6-11/230 8.0 3.0
Game/Series Information
Game Information
Site: Georgia Dome (30,000), Atlanta.
TV: ESPN (Dan Shulman play-by-play, Dick Vitale analyst, Andy Katz sideline)
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network (Tom Leach play-by-play, Mike Pratt analyst); XM 91, Sirius 91 (Duke feed on XM 190, Sirius 193).
Internet: Audio | Video
Favorite: Duke by 3

Series Information
Series record: Kentucky leads 11-8
At neutral sites: Duke leads 6-5
Coaches' records: Calipari 0-1 vs. Duke; Krzyzewski 4-1 vs. UK

Last meeting: Duke 95, Kentucky 92, 2OT (Dec. 18, 2002, East Rutherford, N.J.)
Kentucky's "Team Turmoil," ranked No. 7 nationally, gave No. 1 Duke all it could handle at the Meadowlands, falling short in an overtime upset bid. Jason Williams scored 38 points to lead the Blue Devils, and he scored 25 points in the final 11:13 of regulation and overtime, after the Wildcats had surged to a nine-point second-half lead. Mike Dunleavy added 21 points for Duke. Rashaad Carruth led UK with 19 points. Tayshaun Prince added 17 points and nine rebounds, and Cliff Hawkins scored 15 points.

Keys to the Game
1. A Plumlee Assignment: Maryland's Alex Len worked over the Wildcats for 23 points and 12 rebounds in UK's season-opening win last Friday, and big men Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein will get another big test from Duke's Mason Plumlee. The powerful Plumlee had 19 points and 14 rebounds in the Blue Devils' season opener, and Calipari said he "clearly is better" than Len. Kentucky needs to hold Plumlee in check, and it would help the Cats' cause if Noel or Cauley-Stein could provide some offensive punch in the post.

2. Board Up: Maryland's dominance on the backboards last Friday (a 54-38 rebounding edge and 28 offensive boards) was cause for Calipari's concern. Rebounding is "all we've talked about," Cauley-Stein said, since last Friday's game, and Calipari put in three new rebounding drills for practices leading up to the Duke game. The Blue Devils aren't an especially physical team outside of Plumlee and forward Ryan Kelly, and Georgia State outrebounded Duke 33-31 in a loss last Friday. Kentucky needs to control the boards against a team that doesn't match its length and athleticism.

3. No Free Threes: Duke is perennially stocked with three-point shooting threats, and containing this season's crop will be a key for Kentucky. The Blue Devils made 11-of-24 threes in their season opener, and they can spread the floor with shooters. Guard Seth Curry is the biggest threat, but freshman Rasheed Sulaimon is a sharpshooter, too, and junior Tyler Thornton has improved his three-point shot dramatically since arriving two seasons ago.



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